Struggling offense the focal point during men's basketball's layoff
Nine days have passed since the men’s basketball team lost to University of Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal at Madison Square Garden.
The Spartans learned their NCAA Tournament fate Sunday and will have to wait another four days until they hit the hardwood again against Bucknell at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.
The Big Ten Tournament was played a week earlier than the other Division I men’s conference tournaments, which meant head coach Tom Izzo had an unusual amount of time to reel in his team before the Big Dance, which he said was needed following the team's last outcome.
“I was worried a little bit about getting sent out west on a Thursday game, because I think we needed to get back into a routine,” Izzo said in a press conference Sunday. “We took a day off, a day and a half off. We did individual work. We had a decent practice Friday. We had a very good one Saturday. I think it’s going to be good to get into a routine.”
Instead of getting sent out west and having to play Thursday in an unfamiliar arena, the team was placed in the Midwest region of the bracket and will play Friday at Little Caesars Arena.
While Izzo expressed a sense of joy, and maybe a bit of relief, on Sunday after the team received a favorable venue, he acknowledged the focal areas the team needed some refreshing in during the time off. Izzo said most of the teaching points at practice during the last week have been centered on the offense.
“We’ll be good defensively, I really believe that. It’s offensively — getting more movement — that we really spent some time on,” Izzo said. “The ball isn’t moving as well now. I don’t think it’s anybody’s fault, I don’t think it’s due to selfishness, I think it’s maybe we’re not realizing that it’s got to move as well as it does have to move. So that’s what we really put some emphasis on.”
The Hall of Fame coach might be right about defense not being an area of concern. A Feb. 6 meeting with Iowa was the last time MSU allowed an opponent to shoot 50 percent or better from the field.
But the Spartans have not shot better than 50 percent in each of their last five games, including in their last outing against the Wolverines, during which the team shot just 38 percent, its worst shooting mark of the season.
Sophomore point guard Cassius Winston, who has seen a large dip in his 3-point percentage the last two games, acknowledged the team's offense was at times lackluster heading into the Big Ten tournament.
“Even on that 13-game win streak, we were still going through tough games. We were scraping games out. We were fighting to the last minute, so that can definitely take a toll on you,” Winston said. “These two weeks we got time — even though we’re practicing hard and still getting better and things like that — we got a lot of time to sit back, watch a lot film, and a lot of little things that should help you out.”
Winston entered the Big Ten Tournament with a hot 3-point stroke, but has made just one of his last 11 attempts from beyond the arc. Prior to the Spartans’ opening game in the conference tournament against the Badgers, Winston shot 67 percent or better from the three in four consecutive games.
Sophomores Miles Bridges and Joshua Langford have also had their struggles on offense lately. Bridges has been shooting better from three than from two recently and has attempted at least seven 3-pointers in three out of the last four games, which Izzo said is a bit too much for his liking, while Langford has connected on just a single shot from downtown in the last four outings.
“We looked at our shooting. We spent a little more time on that. We looked at our offense. We’ve got to do a little better job on that,” Izzo said. “And the ball screens, I mean — hell, first half Michigan shot 31 percent. Wisconsin did not shoot a very good percentage. So I thought it was a little more our offense than our defense. “