Long layoff can help men's basketball regroup before NCAA Tournament
NEW YORK — After their Big Ten Tournament semifinal loss to University of Michigan Saturday, the No. 2 Spartans will have at least a 12-day layoff before they can take the hardwood again, as the team’s earliest scheduled NCAA Tournament opening game is March 15.
The longest stretch this season the team has gone without playing a game is eight days. MSU beat Cleveland State on Dec. 29 by 50 points after the long hiatus, but the Vikings aren’t in contention for a tournament bid.
Head coach Tom Izzo has seen a lot in his 23 years as a college basketball coach, but a layoff as long as the one MSU currently faces puts the Hall of Fame coach in unfamiliar territory.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do. And the best part is we’re on Spring break next week,” Izzo said after the team’s 75-64 loss to Michigan. “We might just go to the beach, East Lansing, and see if we can play a little beach basketball.”
Whether or not Izzo was joking or serious about the team partaking in a game of hoops in the sand, he was adamant about the team participating in group activities to maintain chemistry during the break.
“We’re going to do something. We talked about doing something in Chicago and going over seeing Zel (Denzel Valentine) play. We might go down and see the Pistons or do something as a team,” Izzo said.
As for the players, they believe the time off will give them a chance to recoup from the loss to the Wolverines on Saturday, and fix up some things the team likely glossed over during its winning binge over the last couple of months.
Saturday was the first time MSU has lost since Jan. 13, but six of the team’s last eight wins have been by five points or fewer. The Spartans needed to overcome double-digit second half deficits to beat Iowa and Northwestern last month, and found themselves trailing late against Purdue and at Wisconsin.
Against the Wolverines Saturday, the Spartans’ stagnant offense shot 38 percent from the field. And for the third straight game, the best team in the country in total assists, mustered up just 10 helpers.
“We’ve been talking about how we have to be better offensively, and we did have some open looks tonight and you know we didn’t hit those open looks. But we were stagnant, the ball didn’t move as much,” sophomore guard Joshua Langford said. “We have to really fix that before we get to the tournament because teams are going to know us and a lot of times that ball movement, it really shifts the defense and makes it harder for them to defend.”
Offensive stagnation was the root of the Spartans problems against the Wolverines, but their defense didn’t do them any favors either. The Wolverines shot more than 66 percent in the second half of Saturday’s game and put up 75 points on MSU’s defense. For the most part, the Spartans have played consistently good defense this season, but a high-powered Wolverine offense exposed a few cracks in the Spartans’ armor.
“It was the things that we had in the scouting report on how they drove us, which way they drove us, that we didn’t seem to pick up as well as I thought we would,” Izzo said. “As evident by our second half, I mean they shot 66 percent. I thought we did, I bet you the last 16 minutes of the first half we probably held them in the 20s. And we kind of disappeared from that in the second half.”
There is a chance MSU runs into a team with an offensive scheme similar to U-M’s, filling the court with capable 3-point shooters and wielding a stretch four-man that can put the ball on the floor.
Many coaches might say defense wins championships, and in the tournament MSU will need to rely on its defense, which Langford calls the Spartans’ foundation, to have success. Langford, however, didn’t think the team played well on the defensive end on Saturday.
“Defending is what we do, that’s a Michigan State staple. We didn’t do a good enough job of that,” Langford said. “Following the scouting report is something that never fails us, and we didn’t do a good job of following the scouting report.”
The last time the Spartans lost, which was also at the hands at the Wolverines, they responded by going on a win streak. The squad will have to wait two weeks for a chance to go on another one.
“There’s still a big goal that we’re very capable of achieving. So we have to use this to fuel our fire,” point guard Cassius Winston said.