Michigan State has gotten off to a slow 4-4 start, but make no mistake, this young Spartans team will figure it out and be dangerous by year’s end.
It’s been a disappointing beginning to the season for Tom Izzo and company to say the least. For the first time since the 2003-04 season, Michigan State has started the year at .500 after eight games.
The Spartans are turnover prone, have trouble scoring consistently against above-average defenses, and are 0-4 against ranked teams. That’s not a promising outlook for a team that is brimming with talent and is led by one of the greatest head coaches the game has ever seen.
This trend might suggest that Michigan State should start to worry about the prognosis of its season or even hit the panic button altogether. Maybe Michigan State is a middle-of-the-road Big Ten team. Maybe they won’t make the NCAA tournament. Maybe they won’t even finish with a winning record!
We are 21 days into the 115-day college basketball regular season (that’s not even counting conference tournaments). The Spartans have played just barely one quarter of their regular season games. In short, we have a long way to go. And over the next 94-plus days Michigan State will figure it out.
There is a lot of talent on this team, but the biggest problem at the moment is its youth. The Spartans have eight players averaging at least 15 minutes per game so far this season and of those eight players only three are not either a freshman or a sophomore. With so many young players new to college basketball and Izzo’s system, there will naturally be an adjustment period whereby the players get acclimated and learn to play with each other.
Even Izzo hasn’t quite figured his team out yet. Of the eight players averaging 15 minutes or more per game, only one player — stud freshman Miles Bridges — is averaging more than 27 minutes per game. Izzo has been using the early part of the season to experiment with different lineups and combinations to see which of his players work best together and in particular situations. As the season progresses, Izzo will have a better idea of his roster and who can be most effective.
KenPom.com currently ranks Michigan State 33rd in points scored per 100 possessions (adjusted offensive efficiency or AdjO) and 34th in points allowed per 100 possessions (AdjD). Those numbers will improve as we move through the year.
With so many players sharing limited minutes, only three players average more than 7.5 points per game. Once Izzo and his squad iron out the kinks, that will change and at least one or two more double-digit scorers will emerge. There isn’t reason for panic just yet.
There’s also the matter of who Michigan State has had to face so far this season.
Yes, the Spartans lost four of their first eight games, but those four losses came against Kentucky, Duke, Baylor, and Arizona, teams that are currently ranked No. 1, No. 5, No. 9, and No. 16 in the nation.
Michigan State doesn’t have a shocker on its resume like Indiana who lost to Fort Wayne or St. John’s who lost to Delaware State. It hasn’t suffered anything close to a major upset. In fact, the loss to Arizona came on a final-second shot, and the Spartans competed for a full half in Cameron Indoor Stadium against Duke.
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The Spartans’ travel schedule has been almost unprecedentedly difficult. Michigan State started with a game in Hawaii then followed that up with a game in New York, two games at home in East Lansing, a tournament in the Bahamas, and a true road game in Durham, N.C. The entirety of those trips spanned roughly 13,000 miles in less than three weeks.
Fortunately, the farthest Michigan State has to travel in the month of December is to Minnesota, and it doesn’t leave East Lansing until that game December 27. That gives the Spartans a month at home to reenergize and reorganize against lesser quality opponents.
Everyone should temper their expectations for this year’s Michigan State team. They’re young and will need time to grow. The Spartans are more than likely not a championship caliber team this season, but when a Tom Izzo team reaches the NCAA tournament, you can’t ignore them. And either way, Michigan State will be competitive and will sit near the top of the conference standings in March.
No, this is not the start that Michigan State wanted to get off to, but there is still plenty of time for the Spartans to learn from November and improve throughout the season. By February, this could and probably will be one of the more dangerous teams in the Big Ten, just like always.
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