Thursday, April 15, 2021

Takeaways from MSU's 3-1 stretch that has revived postseason dreams

March 1, 2021
<p>MSU strategizes during halftime in a game against OSU on Feb. 25, 2021.</p>

MSU strategizes during halftime in a game against OSU on Feb. 25, 2021.

Photo by Alyte Katilius | The State News

After knocking down Indiana and bringing that energy back to knock down both AP Top-ranked No. 5 Illinois and No. 4 Ohio State, the Michigan State men's basketball team (13-9, 7-9 Big Ten) has started to pave the way for postseason action.

It's been an uncharacteristically dreadful season, that's for sure. But, the Spartans seem to be finally figuring themselves out.

The (almost) perfect starting lineup

The MSU starting lineup has been a game of musical chairs since the 2020-21 campaign started.

Fans thought they saw something solid in Thomas Kithier, Joey Hauser and Foster Loyer.

"It's been that way all year, why change now," Head Coach Tom Izzo said.

Then there was A.J. Hoggard, Malik Hall, Marcus Bingham Jr. and Julius Marble II.

Now, there's Rocket Watts, Aaron Henry, Joshua Langford and Gabe Brown and, honestly, this might be it.

Against Ohio State on Thursday night, Henry played 33 minutes for 18 points; Brown played 32 minutes for 11 points; Langford played 29 minutes for eight points; and Watts played 23 minutes for five points.

Combined, it was a little less productive than Tuesday night against Illinois, where each of the guys played nearly the full 40 minutes.

However, it didn't seem to make a difference, as the impact was still there when the final buzzer sounded and the green and white celebrated a 71-67 win.

The same lineup was placed on the court in College Park, Maryland on Sunday; however, things didn't seem to pull through the way they had been. The star Spartans had lost their sparkle and their win streak.

The fewer turnovers and fouls the better

Over the last four games, the Spartans have collected 45 turnovers and 84 fouls. That doesn't exactly spell out a winning formula.

Marble and Langford are the only people to have found themselves in foul trouble — or get ejected from the game — in three of the four recent matchups, including the one against Indiana.

The defense has gotten down and dirty, as fans can see, and Izzo has even said it's looking like their street-fighting days out on the court now.

For better understanding, let's take a deeper look:

Against Indiana and Ohio State, MSU had over 10 turnovers. In both of those games, the scores between opponents remained very close, fluctuating until the final seconds.

Against Illinois, MSU had under 10 turnovers. In that game, the ending came with the opponent waving the white flag as the green and white held a nine-point lead.

There was a visible pattern, until Sunday. Against Maryland, MSU had under 10 turnovers and ended up in an 18-point deficit.

Regardless, MSU has discovered something late in this season just when we all thought it was done.

It was announced recently by ESPN that significant bubble shifts were occurring. MSU is now projected by ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi to be one of the last four teams out of the NCAA Tournament.

On Tuesday, MSU will host Indiana (12-12, 7-10 Big Ten) for a rematch. After dropping them on the road two weekends ago, one can only assume Indiana is coming to East Lansing ready to fight, which means there's going to be some sort of bloodshed (not literally).

There is hope, significantly less than before though, because if MSU can't regain their stamina to perform the way it was last week, well, fans can tune in to the Big Ten Network on March 2 at 8 p.m. to find out for themselves.

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