If you are a Michigan State fan and you knew who Joey Brunk was coming into tonight, give yourself a pat on the back. Without key members of their front court, Ohio State started their back up center for just the third time this season. Having just 32 total points to his name, Brunk figured to be a step down in competition from Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson. Unfortunately that was not the case for the Spartans. Brunk debuted a flurry of post moves of his own on his way to an easy 18 points.
That was just the beginning of MSU’s hardships Thursday night. EJ Liddell made his presence felt as he usually does with 19 points, including 11 of OSU’s 13 to start the contest. Michigan State also got their first look at Malaki Branham and his scoring ability. The favorite for Big Ten Freshman of the Year led the Buckeyes with 22 points all while matched up against Max Christie.
Although Ohio State was catapulted by a handful of individual performances, the Spartans once again didn’t help themselves. Almost every field goal they converted had a high level of difficulty. The points in the paint category reflects that as OSU doubled up MSU, 36-18. Buckeye’s head coach Chris Holtmann was definitely watching Tuesday night when Michigan scored 44 points down low, and made that a priority for his team. For some reason Tom Izzo refuses to throw double teams big men, and opposing teams take advantage of it by setting up post feeds all night long. Whether it was Liddell or Brunk, deep post position and quick concise moves made it easy to draw fouls or kick out to shooters. Combine that with turnovers and lack of players stepping up, and once again, the Spartans are on the wrong side of a blowout.
A Tournament Team that shouldn’t be in the Tournament
A perfect way to describe the 2022 Michigan State basketball season would be a roller coaster ride. The 14-2 start seems like an eternity ago. Tom Izzo calling this team “consistently inconsistent” after a couple early Big Ten losses is more accurate now than it ever was. The Spartans patented mid season losing skid never was shaken off and is now being carried into the month of March for the first time.
Of course the big question is what went wrong for this team? Every blunder comes in a different form. Lack of effort and turnovers are common mistakes, but struggling to rebound and score points in the paint leaves Michigan State with virtually no way to dig themselves out of early deficits.
MSU has gone from a team of promise to a bundle of ‘what ifs?’ What if Max Christie had performed like Malaki Branham all year? What if Gabe Brown had showed the leadership qualities of team captains before him? If Joey Hauser had turned into the scorer everyone hyped him up to be, what would this team look like?
Now the Spartans are perhaps the least dangerous team heading into the big dance. If it wasn’t for the success in November and December, their season would be coming to an end next week. They are a tournament team that shouldn’t be in the tournament. Anywhere from a 7 seed to a 10 seed is in the cards for Michigan State. However regardless of where they end up, the round of 64 figures to be just another opportunity to lay an egg.
Time to Worry About Izzo?
Big picture look aheads to next season usually don’t happen until a team plays their last game. However with the way MSU has looked in their last two outings, one would think they are just about done. ‘Dead in the water’ might be an understatement with this group. Rarely does someone get into their teammates during in game huddles, and the only ones standing up on the bench after made baskets are walk-ons.
Does this all fall on Tom Izzo? Maybe, maybe not. The way he hasn’t lived up to his name of Mr. March so far would lead one to believe so. But one thing that is certain, is the Spartans need a huge overhaul this summer.
Expect the roster to look vastly different in the fall. Not just from incoming freshman and departing seniors, but because of the transfer portal. Speculating who might leave East Lansing via transfer may be difficult, but as for how MSU acquires fresh talent, they maybe should consider asking Mel Tucker for some advice.
Michigan State is missing three things; a strong leader, a dangerous scoring threat, and a dominant forward. To win in the Big Ten, teams need at least two out of three of those things. Scoring droughts and slow starts to games are just the start of this teams offensive struggles. Half court sets failing to create open shots and the disappearance of the fast break prowess, shine a spotlight on the lack of a true floor general. The way opposing centers have career days and determine the momentum of games is demoralizing. This is just a brief summary of what has brought Tom Izzo’s squad down this year, and what needs to change before next fall.
Now all fans can do is continue watching and find positives that can be carried over to next season. For all we know, the Spartans can make some sort of a run in either of the tournaments. But it won’t change the fact that the performances that have been put out as of late are unacceptable. Michigan State is a winning program with a a culture built on toughness on effort. Unfortunately the 2021-2022 team has not lived up to that standard.
For more MSU Athletics content, follow Alex Mayer on Twitter; @almay_99
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