It’s time to start talking about whether or not Michigan State has cost themselves a shot at getting to the NCAA tournament.
On Sunday night, once again playing without starting forward Miles Bridges, the Spartans fell to 7-5 on the season with a 81-73 loss to Northeastern. That’s the same Northeastern team that won at UConn earlier this season, which seems like it may not be all that bad of a loss until you consider that A) UConn is not good this season, and B) Northeastern has also lost to Boston U., LIU-Brooklyn, Stony Brook, Cornell and Harvard.
Here’s the situation that the Spartans are in right now. They don’t have a quality non-conference win unless you consider their win over Wichita State, who lost by 17 at home to Oklahoma State on Saturday, a quality win. They also, however, only have one catastrophic loss, and that loss came with Bridges out of the lineup, something that the selection committee will take into consideration.
The determining factor, then, is going to be how Michigan State does in Big Ten play, and there are a couple of factors to be worried about here. For starters, the Big Ten appears to be tiered this year. Wisconsin, Indiana and Purdue look like they are the clear-cut top three teams in the league. Once you get past that, there is a logjam of teams that look like they’ll end up being in contention to get an at-large bid without really being good enough to threaten for the league title. The Michigans and Marylands and Ohio States and Northwesterns of the world.
The Spartans right now probably fall somewhere in the back end of that tier.
And that’s concerning.
But the other issue is that Tom Izzo’s team will only get four chances against that elite group. They play Indiana twice and get both Purdue and Wisconsin in East Lansing.
Michigan State needs to go at least 11-7 in Big Ten play and get two wins against the top three teams in the league to avoid missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1997.
I’ll let you decide whether or not they’re actually capable of doing that.
VIDEO: No. 13 Michigan State survives FGCU thanks to clock operator error
No. 13 Michigan State escaped the Breslin Center with a 78-77 win over FGCU on Sunday night thanks in large part to an error made by the person running the clock in the arena.
With 1.6 seconds left, the Eagles had the ball under their own basket, needing to go 94 feet to get a bucket to win the game. Christian Terrell launched an 80-foot inbounds pass that ended up in the hands of Antravious Simmons, but as he caught the ball, the final buzzer sounded.
Instead of starting the clock on the catch, the clock started on the pass. Check it out:
The referees went to the monitor and ruled that the game was over. FGCU head coach Joe Dooley was, rightly, livid, letting the referees and the clock operator have a piece of his mind before he left the floor.
“Miles Bridges didn’t touch the ball,” FGCU head coach Joe Dooley said. “Officials said they can only review it if the shot goes in. We threw the ball in at 1.6 and caught it at 0. The refs said they didn’t start the clock. The table said they didn’t start the clock. The refs said they could only review if the shot goes in. My guy (Antravious Simmons) heard the buzzer and shot it.”
A source told NBCSports that it was NOT the clock operator at the Breslin Center that made the mistake. The “ref had the clock,” the source said.
The question is whether or not the buzzer affected Antravious Simmons’ shot. It looked like he rushed the shot once he heard the buzzer going off, but he knew there was only 1.6 seconds left on the clock. Wouldn’t that be what his shot looked like anyway?
Regardless, many believed that FGCU should have gotten a do-over, but that’s not how the rules work in this situation. The referees don’t have the authority to give FGCU a do-over. What they are allowed to do on a clock-keeper error is to determine whether or not the shot was actually released in the amount of time that was left on the clock. Since Simmons missed the shot, it was a moot point. If he had made the shot that had clearly come after the buzzer sounds, they would have been able to determine that he got the shot off in time. Or, if it was the other way around and the clock started late, the refs would have been able to check to see if Simmons got the shot off in 1.6 seconds.
We told you that last week, but there were some promising signs on Sunday night. The most important? Eron Harris looked like he could end up being a go-to guy. He finished with 31 points and hit six threes, although his two missed throws late set up the ending. The Spartans need someone they can run offense through, among other things. If Harris can be that guy, it’s a big step for them.
UPDATE: Here’s what the officials had to say about the ending:
NEW YORK — This year’s iteration of the Champions Classic was weird, to say the least.
The No. 1 team in the country, Duke, lost in a thriller to a team that was already 0-1 on the season, and not only did the performance assert why that 0-1 team – No. 7 Kansas – is a national title contender – because #BIFM – but it also was proof positive that the Blue Devils are the best team in the country. That’s what happens when you take a team like Kansas to the wire, erasing a 10-point deficit in the final five minutes, without Harry Giles III, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden.
And then there is Kentucky.
The No. 2 Wildcats played their best game of the season, dominating No. 13 Michigan for 40 minutes, beating Tom Izzo’s team by 21 points and doing so while their front line failed to look anything close to dominant. The Wildcats all-but ensured that they will be the No. 1 team in college basketball come Monday morning, and yet, it seems like it’s something that we’re all glossing over.
And, frankly, there’s a reason for that: Michigan State just isn’t very good right now.
There are a lot of reasons for this, but by far the biggest issue is on the offensive end of the floor. The Spartans managed all of 48 points against Kentucky after they struggled to find any kind of offensive rhythm after the opening minutes against Arizona. They shot 32 percent from the floor. They were 5-for-26 from three. they had nine assists and 19 turnovers.
“I think this is one of John (Calipari’s) best defensive teams,” head coach Tom Izzo said. I’d quibble with that assessment – three times in his Kentucky tenure Coach Cal has fielded a team that finished first or second in KenPom.com’s defensive efficiency metric – but this is a very good Kentucky defense. De’Aaron Fox may be the nation’s best on-ball defender, Isaiah Briscoe has transformed himself into a stopper and there is enough size, length and athleticism on this roster that effort is the only thing that would keep this version of the Wildcats from being very good on that end of the floor.
Putting that kind of defensive back court on the floor against a team whose point guard play is very much a work in progress is going to cause problems, but more on that in a second.
To me, the biggest issue that this Michigan State team has is that they don’t really have a star on the offensive end of the floor. Miles Bridges was supposed to be the guy that carried the load, but he’s just not ready for that at this point in his development. He’s a role player in the same way that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was a role player on Kentucky 2012 national title team. Bridges is an other-worldly athlete that plays hard, defends, rebounds and does all the things on a basketball court that you cannot teach. In the first ten minutes on Tuesday night, he blocked two layups seemingly out of nowhere and broke up another alley-oop, essentially erasing six points that Kentucky would’ve scored against any other team in the country.
But that’s what he does best right now.
At this level right now, he is a glue guy. But given the youth on Michigan State’s roster, the Spartans need him to be the guy, and he’s not that guy, at least not against this level of competition. He finished 2-for-11 from the floor with nine turnovers against Michigan State.
“I’m really embarrassed,” Bridges said, adding that he felt added pressure to try and make something happen when the offense started struggling. “But that’s what I can’t do. I have to get my teammates involved and do something else.”
“In high school, I was getting wherever I wanted, bullying guys,” Bridges added. “You can’t do that here.”
Izzo’s known as one of the best x’s-and-o’s coaches in college hoops, but without a commanding voice at the point guard spot, their offense devolved into too much one-on-one. Instead of running their lanes in transition and running through their sets, Michigan State was trying to break the defense down on their own. That’s not going to work against a team that can defend the way that Kentucky can defend. That’s not going to work if Michigan State is going to beat the teams that they expect to beat.
The good news?
Much of what ails Michigan State is fixable. They’ll get better as Cassius Winston gets more comfortable running the show. They’ll get better as Nick Ward learns how to be a guy that offense runs through in the post. They’ll get better as Josh Langford gets more comfortable being a go-to guy on the offensive end of the floor. They’ll get better as Izzo continues to work with them on how he wants his offensive to run and his team to play. Veteran teams can overcome subpar point guard play. Great point guards can help ‘coach up’ a young team early in the season.
The Spartans, right now, have neither, and the result wasn’t exactly unexpected.
“The good news is the mistakes we’re making are fixable mistakes. [Coach] is not telling us to jump higher or run faster, it’s cutting and the x’s-and-o’s,” Nick Goins said, adding that the loss of Ben Carter and Gavin Schilling, a pair of senior bigs, is taking a toll as well. “Having that leadeship and the people that know our coaches and how they want the program run, it’s where we’re struggling, to get people to fit into those roles.”
“When you have 18 or 20 turnovers, defensive mistakes, that you know you can’t make, that’s stuff you can control,” said Langford. “When you look at yourself in the mirror, it’s frustrating, but you have to live and learn.”
That’s what life is going to be like at this level. Michigan State will have to learn how to adjust.
The biggest change on the floor is the two-tone design that offsets the areas inside and outside the arc. The court keeps the large Spartan logo at center court that Michigan State added to the venue in 2012.
Spartan fans and the Izzone will get their first look at the new floor Friday when the school hosts its annual Michigan State Madness event, which always features coach Tom Izzo doing, well, something.
The Spartans lost much off last year’s team, but new faces like Miles Bridges, Josh Langford, Cassius Winston and Nick Ward are expected to keep Michigan State among the Big Ten’s best.
VIDEO: Miles Bridges throws down between-the-legs dunk
When Miles Bridges made the decision to sign with Michigan State, the Spartans knew that they were getting one of the top prospects in the stacked Class of 2016. And as Bridges has shown during the summer, he’s going to bring some serious excitement to the Breslin Center this winter.
Thursday night at the Moneyball summer league Bridges threw down a between-the-legs dunk…in game action. Bridges had a clear lane with no one between he and the basket, and he took advantage of the situation to give the fans in attendance a show.
With some NBA head coaching jobs opening up, it’s that time of year when the names of prominent college basketball head coaches get mentioned for such opportunities. Of course we’ve all become used to the annual rumors involving Kentucky head coach John Calipari, who has yet to move away from one of the top jobs in the sport.
His name is one that has come up in recent reports surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers’ opening, with Connecticut’s Kevin Ollie and Villanova’s Jay Wright among those being mentioned by various outlets as well.
Ollie told ESPN’s Andy Katz on Monday that he has had no contact with the Lakers. He said he will always listen if called but it would take “something very special” to pull him away from UConn.
Ollie’s contract, which was signed after he led the Huskies to the national title in 2014, has a clause that would allow him to terminate his contract without penalty “on or after the one-year anniversary” of the departure of either athletic director Warde Manuel or UConn president Susan Herbst. Manuel left UConn in January to take over as athletic director at Michigan (his first official day was March 14), so a departure now would not meet the one-year requirement.
The buyout to leave for an NBA job would be $4 million until May 31, with the buyout amount dropping to $1 million after that date.
The latter report also named Wright, Calipari, Tom Izzo and Roy Williams as names the Lakers could consider for their opening. Wright led Villanova to its second national title earlier this month, and his Wildcats have won the last three Big East regular season titles.
NBA franchises have been more willing to look at successful college coaches in recent years, with Fred Hoiberg and Billy Donovan making the jump to the pros last season. Hoiberg took over in Chicago, but things didn’t go as planned for the Bulls as they missed out on the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 season. As for Donovan, he’s running the show in Oklahoma City where the Thunder are up three games to one on the Mavericks.
Both coaches took jobs with (at first glance) the talent needed to be successful, which is a far cry from the jobs Calipari and Rick Pitino took with the Nets and Celtics respectively during the mid-1990’s. Does the Lakers job fit that mold? Having won a total of 38 games in their last two seasons, not to mention needing to fill the hole left by the retirement of Kobe Bryant, one can argue that this would not be an optimal job for a college coach to take.
But with the Lakers being a franchise that’s won 16 titles, the appeal of leading such a storied franchise can’t be denied even with the recent struggles.