Coming off their 60-51 win over Tubby Smith’s Golden Gophers, the Spartans must get ready in a hurry for a dangerous trip to Purdue. The Spartans sit at 8-2 in the Big Ten, currently second place in what will be a very close race over the next month. The main concern coming out of the Minnesota game is the overall team health. The injuries suffered, especially to Keith Appling, may cost MSU more than the single win benefited them. Earlier in the week, Tom Izzo laid out what he wants from his team moving through the dog days of February.
“We’ve gotta get more consistent,” he laid out in short. Yet, as we discussed in an earlier SN BBall Report this year, the injury situation and mid-season transfer have seemed to permanently unsettle the Spartans’ lineup. It was not only evident against Minnesota, but also last week when MSU topped the Fighting Illini in far from smooth 80-75 victory.
“We played most of the (Illinois) 2nd Half without Harris, and all the 2nd Half without Trice, and we’re just not deep enough to do that,” Izzo admitted. With Harris’ body breaking down even further against Minnesota, Appling’s late injury, and Trice’s health now a very serious concern because of his past concussion, Tom Izzo must be wondering if MSU’s jerseys have some kind of injury magnet on them.
The “off weekend” should’ve helped the Spartans, but didn’t play out as you might have assumed. “We didn’t have many practice days because of injuries and we had to take our days off (NCAA ordered),” Izzo said. During those few practices, it’s safe to say the Spartans put some focus on rebounding. As we discussed earlier this season, this is not an outstanding Rebounding team by Spartan standards. Izzo wasn’t so sure what he had rebounding wise about a month ago, but earlier this week he was more decided, calling this team “one of the worse teams rebounding teams I’ve had.”
That must be a prime concern for Spartan Nation right now, and wasn’t helped last night as Minnesota outrebounded MSU by 9 to follow up their domination of the boards in the first meeting. The thought of any further injury, or just a diminished performance because guys are playing hurt, won’t help that. It also serves to add pressure on their shooting, and on their team Defense.
Next up is a Saturday night fight with the Boilermakers at the always hostile Mackey Arena. That’s typically a tough trip for Spartan Hoops, which is far from a guaranteed “W.” Matt Painter’s team is young, but this rivalry has had the heat turned up on it a notch or two in the past couple of years. “We’ve always had competitive battles,” Painter told Spartan Nation earlier this week. “Things happen..it’s part of competitive basketball that guys are going to get into it, and sometimes square off.”
Earlier this year, Purdue came into Breslin Center and had a real shot at stealing one on the road, but unraveled badly towards the end. “We just lost our composure,” Painter explained, “…now Michigan State’s going in transition, hitting threes, getting tip dunks.” Purdue might have come closer to knocking the Spartans off than the 84-61 final score looks, and hopefully close enough to get the Spartans complete attention building up to Saturday night. “What did you learn?…you lose your composure, you lose the game,” Painter summed up.
The biggest “Baby Boiler” to take note of is the big man in the middle, A.J. Hammons. The true Freshmen has a long way to go if he’s going to reach his true potential, but Painter likes some of his progress thus far. “It’s a lot different for “big post” (players),” Painter said about Hammons learning curve, “(and) he’s starting to get a bit more comfortable on the offensive end.” Painter pointed out, however, that his better games Offensively have been those that Purdue has actually lost.
Hammons has the frame to become the rare dominant “Big Man” in College Basketball, but he’ll have to develop his game a good bit to earn that kind of recognition. Painter’s looking towards his decision making, with and without the ball, as the next step he wants the Freshmen to take. Hammons should see a lot of Adreian Payne, and enough of Derrick Nix or Matt Costello on Saturday night to make things difficult. But the Spartans must contain Hammons and make him look like he’s still got a long way to go if they’re to get out of Mackey with a win.
At this stage of the Big Ten race it feels like every game is a “must win,” though it’s so unlikely any team left will win out through March. In fact, it looks more likely that a 4-loss team could win the league out right. It’s imperative to protect your home Court, and then to try to snag one on the road wherever you can. That’s never been easy for MSU in West Lafayette, and it could be really tough if they even think about peaking ahead to next Tuesday night and Michigan.
In reality, the Spartans have had a really good season to date, and remain in great shape to threaten for yet another Big Ten title. The real question right now facing them is whether they have enough gas in the tank to grind through and survive the rest of the Big Ten.
“We’ve gotta rebound better, we’ve gotta defend a little better, and take care of the ball a little better,” Izzo concluded. If these currently hobbling Spartans can survive Purdue and take care of business next Tuesday night against Michigan, they should then get past Nebraska on the 16th to set up an all-timer at Breslin against Indiana on Tuesday the 19th. Right now, however, that seems a very big IF and a long ways away for this tired and battered team.
The Spot Up 3: Quick Hitters to Dribble Around Your Basketball Mind
- Indiana is the best team in the Big Ten. That doesn’t mean they’ll win the league or even the Big Ten Exhibition Tournament that follows the regular season, but they should have the best shot to reach the Final Four from the league. Of course, they may not be the only Big Ten representative in Atlanta.
- As you probably expected, Tom Izzo has some thoughts on the ending of the Super Bowl too. He told Spartan Nation that he thought his old roommate Jerry Rosburg (Ravens Assistant Head Coach / Special Teams Coordinator) and John Harbaugh were smart to take the Safety in the final seconds the way they did, and wasn’t sure there was a missed Pass Interference call on the 49ers final Offensive snap. “I think there was a bump past 5 yards, I thought the Offensive player was pushing off also, and I’m not sure the pass was catchable.”
- Aaron Craft was fouled at the end, but Ohio State lost the game at Michigan the other night. The great game ran out of gas as the two teams combined for just 6-points in the extra session. Thad Matta’s bunch ultimately failed because they didn’t get the ball to their best Offensive threat, Deshaun Thomas, enough during the Overtime. Regardless of that final no-call, Ohio St. lost the game more than Michigan won it.