With the ACC having already secured a landslide victory in its annual challenge with the Big Ten, Thursday night promised to offer some respite into the one-sidedness of the competition.
Well, the Big Ten added to its paltry win total, but there wasn’t much in the way of competition as No. 3 Michigan State walloped No. 5 Notre Dame, 81-63, to improve to 6-1 on the season and send the Fighting Irish to their first loss of the season.
The Spartans controlled the game from the outset, getting up big early and withstanding a second-half charge from the Irish. Notre Dame, especially at the Breslin Center, was simply no match for Michigan State.
Josh Langford and Cassius Winston both had 17 for the Spartans with Winston also contributing seven assists. Miles Bridges had 14 points and Nick Ward 12.
Bonzie Colson led the way for the Irish with 17 points while Rex Pflueger had 15.
It was a dominating performance from the Spartans, who have made a habit of being dominating since that Champion’s Classic loss to Duke. Their last five wins have all come by at least 18 points.
Here’s what we learned Thursday:
Michigan State at full-bore is scary good
The Spartans were dominant for about 30 minutes of this game, having to withstand about a 10-minute second-half push from Notre Dame. When they were on, it was clear that Michigan State is among the top tier of teams that appear capable of winning a national championship. Duke’s win over Tom Izzo’s team and its run through the PK80 has them at the front of the line right now, but the Spartans aren’t far behind.
Against a top-five opponent, Michigan State shot 51.4 percent in the first half despite 4 of 13 from 3-point range. The held the Fighting Irish to 37.9 percent shooting (3 of 11 from 3) and forced six turnovers to be 20 points better heading into halftime.
There was that lull from the Spartans after halftime – and give credit to Notre Dame for punching back – but Michigan State still at least 12 points from four starters and nine from Matt McQuaid off the bench. Jaren Jackson was the sole starter not to break 10 points, but foul trouble limited to 14 minutes and he still managed three blocks.
It’s not surprising or news to notice that Michigan State is really, really good, but it’s still impressive to see them at full stride.
Bonzie Colson is awesome, but does have his limitations
The Notre Dame senior is one of the best players in college basketball. He’s incredibly fun to watch as a 6-foot-5 forward with an expansive wingspan. The guy gets buckets.
But when faced with a defender with size, length and/or athletcism, it can cause problems for him.
That’s what happened Thursday night.
Colson was 6 of 19 from the floor (31.5 percent) against the Spartans, who were able to throw a number of defenders at him, though it was Jackson (6-10 with a 7-f wingspan) that really gave him fits. What makes him so strong is his efficiency, and Michigan State took that away completely.
Miles Bridges shouldn’t settle for jumpers
Michigan State’s star had a so-so night with 14 points, six rebounds, four assists and a block, but he was 6 of 15 from the floor and committed three turnovers in 32 minutes. The biggest issue for Bridges is that he wasn’t getting to the rim in the halfcourt with much consistency, instead launching 3s. He made just 1 of 7.
Bridges can make 3s. He’s actually a pretty good shooter from distance, having converted at a 38.9 percent clip last year and coming in at 36 percent this year. But he’s too much of a dynamic physical weapon with his size and athleticism to shoot from 3 that much, taking the pressure of a defense that would likely nothing more than to avoid the prospect of getting dunked on by Miles Bridges. He’s shot at least five 3s in four of Michigan State’s seven games.
If Bridges can use the 3-point shot more as a strategic threat than principal play, it’ll go a long way.
The Spartans are going to blow through the Big Ten
The Big Ten got absolutely waxed in its annual matchup with the ACC, dropping 11 of 15 games. It’s a pretty good indication that the league, as a whole, just isn’t as strong as most years. Minnesota and Purdue have probably looked the best of the potential contenders, but neither of those teams appear to be at an elite level.
That really just leaves Michigan State to carry the banner for the conference this season, and, as noted above, they are more than capable of doing just that. The Spartans appear poised for a No. 1 seed in a couple months, and, given that it won’t be surprising if they clear the Big Ten by three or more games, the conversation will likely be about their worthiness for the top overall seed.