Hoops notes: Defense not as good as it could be in rout of Nebraska
Since their 88-81 loss to No. 1 Duke back on Nov. 14 in the Champions Classic, the No. 3 ranked Spartans have tallied off six consecutive victories, including wins against two AP top-25 teams in North Carolina and Notre Dame.
On the offensive end, MSU has seen sophomore guards Joshua Langford and Cassius Winston put up career highs in points in back-to-back games, but defense has been MSU's driving force during this win streak.
Before its rout of Nebraska, MSU was holding their opponents to just 54 points per game and a combined 34 percent field goal percentage in its last four outings.
During that span the team also had a combined +14.8 rebound advantage over their opponents. The only game this season in which the Spartans have gotten outrebounded was in their only loss, to the Blue Devils.
While most aspects of the squad's defense has been stellar, there is one reoccurring theme that is somewhat troubling: five of the Spartans' opponents this year — including four out of their last six — have shot better or the same from three against them than from two.
With the 86-57 win in the Big Ten opener against Nebraska on Sunday, MSU held them to just 27.4 percent shooting from the floor on Sunday, but the Cornhuskers shot 45.5 percent from three-point territory.
When asked during his postgame press conference to put the Nebraska game into perspective in comparison to some of the team's other wins during the streak, head coach Tom Izzo said this outing was the least impressive, mainly due to the squad's lack of aggression on the defensive end.
"It wasn't very satisfying today to be honest with you," Izzo said. "Our defense was pretty good, not aggressive, that's why we're giving up so many threes, they hit ten threes."
The Spartans ended up pulling away in the second half and winning by almost 30 points, but before the team was in complete cruise control, it seemed like every time MSU went on a mini-run the Cornhuskers would cease it with a three-pointer.
"They played well in stretches and they played well in stretches. They cut it to 12, they cut it back to 10," Izzo said. "You know, I just don't like when we've given up a wide open three because we're not getting back on defense."
Despite this small area of concern for Izzo and the team going forward, the Spartans did hold Nebraska to their worst shooting performance from the floor this season thus far; and Jaren Jackson Jr. recognized that accomplishment after the game.
"I thought our defense, it didn't really win it for us today like other games but I think it did it's job," Jackson said.
Foul trouble: Limiting fouls is another aspect of the Spartans' defense that Izzo addressed as a topic of concern. Three MSU players, including forwards Xavier Tillman and Nick Ward had more than three fouls against Nebraska.
Jackson only had two fouls in what was an improvement from his previous outing against Notre Dame, in which he committed four fouls and only played 14 minutes.
"He's just kind of coming down and he doesn't have to," Izzo said. "he kept his hands up and still blocked shots, but ended up on the ground. He's got good timing he's just going to have to learn."
"Nick (Ward), on the other hand, sometimes tries to go over guy's backs and he has to quit doing that," Izzo added.
Quick turnaround: The Spartans will have to prepare for a quick turnaround with a Tuesday game at Rutgers looming, already their second inter-conference game of the young season. Conference play started earlier than usual for the Spartans this year. Last season, the team did not play their first Big Ten opponent until Dec. 27.
MSU has traveled to Chicago to play Duke in the Champions Classic, and to Portland, Oregon for the PK80 invitational, forcing MSU to practice less than Izzo would like.
"We haven't worked on much, we haven't practiced much. Been more walk-throughs from out at the PK80 to now" Izzo said. "We just haven't been able to do much."