“We’ve got to figure out how to get better as a team, just more consistent,” Winston said, via MLive.com. “We were winning games, but we weren’t winning games pretty, and as crisp as we should with as much talent as we have. We still have a lot of improvements left to make as a team.”
Tom Izzo is college basketball coaching royalty and his Michigan State basketball teams have been one of the best programs in the country for as long as most of us can remember. However, what we’ve witnessed this season could very well be a program in decline.
No Draymond Green-like player, no Mateen Cleaves…basically, it’s a team with some nice parts but no stand out leader who can get them over the hump in the difficult games. MSU has lost five of its seven games after leading or being within one possession in the final minute.
If that doesn’t speak to a lack of killer instinct and pure leadership, I don’t know what does. That’s not to say this team doesn’t have talent, because it does. Both forward Branden Dawson and guard Travis Trice are individually great, but as a team they just can’t get over the final hurdle.
Saturday’s loss is perhaps the most puzzling of them all. Dawson pulled down a crazy 18 rebounds for the second time this season, and for the second time this season his team lost after he did that.
The Spartans also had an incredible 24-5 lead in offensive rebounds against a Nebraska team that actually started some size up front for this contest.
Izzo-coached teams of the past would never have wasted that kind of day on the glass. Rather than a two-point loss, Michigan State teams of the past would’ve mopped the floor with the opposition and likely won by a 20-plus point margin.
That’s not how this team is built though, and it’s been a problem for this team all season. So has been putting together consistent effort during a single game, something Trice admitted to following the game.
“They hit some tough shots and got some of their guys going early,” Trice said, via the AP. “If we play the way we did the last eight, seven minutes of the game, we wouldn’t have had a problem.”
Even more telling is the fact that MSU has gone from winning all four of the first four meetings between these schools as Big Ten institutions, to a two-game losing streak in the series.
What happened on Saturday is somehow the Spartans allowed Nebrasketball to go in to full effect, building a 14-point lead at the half and eventually a 17-point lead early in the second half.
Star Nebraska guard Terran Petteway poured in a game-high 32 points in the win, but that just illustrates how bad things have gotten. However, it isn’t the first time that’s happened, as Michigan State has given up 30 points to an opposing player in each of the last two years (Oklahoma’s Cameron Clark had 32 last season).
With three losses already on the Big Ten season and seven overall before coming out of January this team has some serious work ahead of it to become a contender. The Spartans still have two games against Michigan and single contests with Indiana and Wisconsin on the road left to play. Not to mention two games against a tricky Illinois team and hosting Ohio State too.
Given the schedule ahead and the losses already suffered, one has to ask the question of whether or not this team is in danger of doing the unthinkable at Michigan State — missing the NCAA tournament.
When was the last time that happened, right? Well, the answer is 1997. Yes, this team has made the NCAA tournament every year for 17-straight seasons.
Don’t get me wrong, the Spartans could still well make this year’s tournament and likely will, but with seven losses overall and three in Big Ten competition before even hitting the meat of the schedule there’s a real chance this team could be in some trouble down the road.
In 2014-15 the Spartans’ can point to wins over Marquette and newly hot Indiana as the “big” wins on its schedule. Those wins aren’t exactly going to move the needle when Selection Sunday comes around.
It isn’t just the on-court results either, Michigan State has been declining in the world of recruiting as well.
Sure, the group of Matt Costello, Garry Harris, Kenny Kaminsky and Denzel Valentine gave the Spartans the No. 12-ranked class of the 2012 recruiting cycle, but it’s a group that really hasn’t lived up to the overall hype of such a lofty ranking (outside of Harris who left early for the NBA).
However, each of the two classes following that haul have shot down the rankings, with the 2013 class ranking No. 74 (just two 3-star players signed) and the 2014 class ranking No. 50 nationally.
The problem isn’t totally in the rankings, it is in the fact that Michigan State has suffered big name losses earlier than expected and have been unable to replace them thanks to those lower-regarded recruiting classes.
It’s hard to argue that those lower rankings haven’t come to bare on the court either, as none of the five players in those two classes have become key contributors to a team in need of depth and that extra-something special when the game is on the line.
The good news is that mojo could be back in short order, as the Spartans have the No. 13-ranked class of the 2015 recruiting cycle. It also finally has another 5-star player in the fold, as in-state star Deyonta Davis is committed and he’ll be joined by at least two players within the top 153 of the country according to 247Sports.
While it may be premature to say the Spartans are in some serious trouble, it does feel like something is missing from the program. Between the decline in recruiting rankings and finding ways to lose games this program seemingly always won in the past, it does feel like some of the old Spartan mojo is slipping away.
Can one great class turn this program around? Time will tell, but there’s little question the 2015 recruiting class is going to be make or break for the Spartans hopes of climbing back to the top of the Big Ten mountain.
Spartans to name Bill Beekman as new AD
MSU expected to remove interim tag from Bill Beekman in a press conference on Monday morning.
Michigan State has undergone a huge leadership transformation following the sex abuse scandal that plagued the athletic department and led to the AD leaving and the university president resigning as well.
Bill Beekman was named interim AD following Mark Hollis’ resignation last January. Apparently he has impressed the Board of Trustees enough in his just about three-month tenure to earn the new job on a permanent basis. This will be his first official job in any capacity within an athletic department.
The Detroit Free Press first reported the Beekman would get the interim tag removed from him on Sunday night. On Monday morning, the Spartans held a press conference and announced that very thing.
Beekman is a name that many on the Board of Trustees would be familiar with, having served on the board himself starting in 2008 until his appointment as the interim athletic director. He also has served as the executive director for the MSU Alumni Association and is a 1989 graduate of Michigan State.
Clearly he has the Spartan blood running through him, but most importantly, he has apparently done a great job of getting the big names behind him in the process. According to sources, both Mark Dantonio and Tom Izzo have been impressed by what Beekman has brought to the table in reshaping the department since his arrival.
Additionally, this move makes sense as the Board of Trustees isn’t likely to name a replacement to interim president John Engler until at least this time next year.
The university put out a media notice through the Big Ten of a press conference set for 11am ET for what it is calling “regarding an athletic-related personnel announcement.”
You can see the press conference on BTN or via BTN2Go.
Michigan State Spartans Football Preview: Reasons to be Optimistic
We continue our look at the 2018 Michigan State Spartans with a look at reasons to be optimistic heading in to the season.
Michigan State has been a surprising team as of late. First it surprised everyone by going from the College Football Playoff to a 3-9 team in a matter of one season. Then it surprised a lot of people from weathering that 33-9 season and a horrible offseason to return to a Big Ten East contender in 2017.
So, where does that leave the 2018 version of Mark Dantonio’s Spartans? Well, we’re here to break that down all week and today we’ll give you the reasons to be optimistic about MSU.
Holy Experience Batman
One reason why Michigan State has been so successful under Mark Dantonio is that he has a system and sticks to it. That consistency helps his players in a major way, but so does having experienced players executing that system.
So, it should be no coincidence that when the Spartans are at their best it’s with a very experienced team.
The 2018 version of the Spartans return 19 starters, including 10 on the offensive side of the ball. Spearheading that attack is second-year starting QB Brian Lewerke, whose ability to be a deadly passer as well as a deadly runner has added a different wrinkle to the MSU offense.
Defensively, this team is as strong as it may ever be under Dantonio. Mike Panasiuk and Raequan Williams are beasts at defensive tackle and Joe Bachie follows a long line of quality middle linebackers behind that group. In fact, another season like Bachie had in 2017 and he could be the best middle linebacker MSU has seen in the Dantonio era. Those are just three of 9 returning starters for a defense that was No. 2 in the country against the run last season.
That 2017 team was light on experience, but had plenty of potential. Fast forward a season and this is one of the more experienced teams in the Big Ten, and that should help them contend in the rough and tumble Big Ten East division.
Skill Position Depth
This isn’t your brother or sister’s Michigan State Spartans squad anymore. No longer does MSU have to pound you in to submission on offense. Instead, it can be as dynamic an offense as any the Big Ten has to offer.
One huge reason for that is a deep group of skill position players at the ready. MSU has arguably its most versatile group of wide receivers it has had in the 2010’s. 6 foot, 4 inch tall Felton Davis is a matchup nightmare thanks to his size and speed, while Darrell Stewart is perfect in the slot and can kill you with deceptive speed. Both caught over 50 passes last season to prove they belong. Meanwhile up and coming Cody White is another big threat, catching 35 passes as a freshman last year.
Defensively, things look good on the edge with the combo of Justin Layne and Josiah Scott. Layne’s size (6-3) and Scott’s ability to use his hands well makes this combo difficult to pass against. Scott nabbed a pair of interceptions and led the team with 10 pass breakups as a freshman last season, while Layne had eight of his own pass break ups and a forced fumble to go with 40 total tackles as well.
There’s also depth behind them at cornerback and two safeties that are proving to grow in to their roles. Having the skill positions be a strength should only help an offensive line that returns a lot of starting experience but lacked quality run game production a season ago.
Few coaches in the Big Ten get as much out of their talent as Dantonio does in East Lansing.
Any time you have Dantonio on your side, it’s a reason to be optimistic that things are going to be just fine. How Dantonio helped his guys weather an offseason storm and how he took the slings and arrows of the media over the past 18 months is a testament to why the team can be successful on the field.
In a conference that has upgraded its overall coaching talent, Dantonio still stands out as one of the best motivators and teachers in the Big Ten. Don’t underestimate that mattering when the games kick off this fall.
There is certainly reason for renewed optimism around the Spartans program.
While it may be difficult to get all the way back to the College Football Playoff level, at least the Spartans aren’t going backwards as many seemed to think they were heading in to 2017.
Combining Dantonio’s steady system with experienced players who just so happen to be very productive while gaining that experience is a great reason to be bullish on this team. Don’t be surprised to see this formula equal a run towards the East division title and national recognition too.
Michigan State Spartans Football Preview: Lessons from 2017
What did the 2017 season teach us about the Michigan State Spartans program?
There was little doubt that 2017 was going to be a defining season in the Mark Dantonio era. With a ton of pressure from the outside world and a crazy 3-9 season in the rearview mirror, either Dantonio would sink his own ship or right it.
It didn’t take long to see that a program in turmoil had banded together in an “us vs. them” mentality that worked well for the Spartans.
The result was a 10-3 season, wins over two of the biggest names in the Big Ten East division and a very different narrative heading in to the 2018 offseason.
But, with so much happening around the program last season, what lessons were learned that would apply to 2018?
Let’s take a look at what lessons we believe will matter going forward.
Adversity Wears Well on Spartans
No team in the Big Ten had a worse 2017 offseason than the Spartans did. There were awful off-field allegations, charges and convictions. There were players suspended, kicked off the team and transfers.
Yet, when the dust settled on the 2017 season, a team that seemingly was in disarray nearly won the East division. A team that won just three games in 2016 and suffered through a very public and ugly offseason managed to right the ship right away and went 7-2 in Big Ten play.
There were wins over rival Michigan and a red-hot Penn Stat program and a massive blowout of Washington State in the Holiday bowl for redemption of not being selected for a seemingly better positioned bowl game.
At every step of the way in 2017 there was major adversity. Instead of folding, Mark Dantonio’s crew rallied together and came away with a season few saw coming from the outside world.
It was certainly a positive lesson for everyone involved — from what not to do off the field to how to grow together in the face of major doubters. By the end of it all, MSU football felt like it was closer to being back in the Big Ten title picture than ever before. The lesson of the 2017 season won’t soon be forgotten.
1-QB System Works Best
If you would’ve told anyone back in the 2016 offseason that Brian Lewerke would be the answer to MSU’s quarterback hopes, few would’ve believed you. Yet, the pattern of quarterback-by-committee not working and then getting a leader to emerge and make the team dangerous the next continued on.
No position seems to hold the keys to success or failure at Michigan State more that quarterback. It’s no coincidence that settling on one quarterback has proven to be the defining factor in offensive success at MSU.
Lewerke looked like the better option in 2016, took hold of the position in 2017 and the Spartans offense was back off to the races. The sophomore signal caller threw for over 2,700 yards and 20 touchdowns compared to just 7 interceptions. Compare that to the three-headed QB monster in 2016 that ended up with just 2,668 yards, completed just 57 percent of their passes and had just 19 touchdowns to 11 interceptions.
Coming up the ranks from a walk-on to starter in the face of supposed stiff competition from Damion Terry, Tyler O’Connor and emerging as the steadying force showed that picking one quarterback and sticking with them is a recipe for better chances at success in East Lansing.
Lewerke established himself as the starter and has two more years to lead this team forward. If 2017 taught us anything, it’s that Lewerke is not to be underestimated, just like the Spartans as a whole.
This Offense has to be More Than Lewerke
As impressive as Brian Lewerke was last season, for large swaths of 2017 he was the only offense that mattered for Michigan State.
In fact, not only did Lewerke lead the way through the air, he was the Spartans leading rusher for much of the year too. Only a late-season surge from L.J. Scott, who only had three 100-yard games on the entire season, allowed him to overtake Lewerke on the ground.
Scott finished the season with 898 yards to Lewerke’s 559 yards, with Scott leading the TD category 8 to 5.
While it was nice to see the team back to winning against quality competition, the Spartans were torn apart by teams who could shut Lewerke down. Ohio State tore apart MSU and more importantly, held Lewerke completely in check. He rushed for just 2 total yards and passed for just 131 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns in the 48-3 loss.
Can Scott become the star everyone thought he might have been last season, this season? If MSU wants to become a true East division and Big Ten title contender, it has to re-establish a tough run game that doesn’t rely on Lewerke to be the leading rusher for most of the season.
Is Michigan State’s March magic in danger of running out in 2018?
Michigan State has limped through the start of March, can it right the ship and pull off its usual March magic?
Death, taxes and the Michigan State Spartans going deep in March under Tom Izzo.
Almost all three of these things are automatic in life.
Usually we’re talking about Michigan State and deep runs in the NCAA tournament. After all, this was a program that went to back-to-back Sweet Sixteen’s and then an Elite Eight and a Final Four in four straight seasons from 2012 to 2015.
But, the last few seasons have ended in much quicker fashion than normal, with a first round exit in 2016 and a second round exit last season.
All seemed right heading in to this March though, with the Spartans riding a 13-game win streak and a Big Ten regular season title.
But, March took on a different tone for this team and those deep runs MSU is famous for may not be worth betting on this time around.
One loss in 15 games may not be anything to worry about, but the devil is in the details as to why MSU may not be the solid bet everyone seems to think they are.
It actually started in late February, with Michigan State being taken to the wire by a lower-half Wisconsin Badgers team in the regular season finale. Five days later, that same Badgers team did it again, making the Spartans work for a 63-60 victory in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals.
A day later and MSU found itself out of the tournament at the hands of bitter in-state rival Michigan. The Wolverines played the type of game most expect from the Spartans and won 75-64.
That was the end to a 13-game win streak, but the cracks were clearly there prior to the loss.
Michigan State struggled to score in both games against the Badgers and over the past three games have only been shooting 41.6 percent from the field. Additionally, the Spartans have scored under their conference season average of 76.5 points per game in five of their final seven games.
Of course, one could also see it as a positive that MSU found ways to win six of those seven games despite not playing its best basketball.
But, come March all it takes is one day or night of off basketball and you are bounced from the tournament.
That fact isn’t lost on the team, as guard Cassius Winston pointed out that the upcoming break needs to be about MSU finding its rhythm once again.
Maybe it is a good thing the loss came on Saturday in the Big Ten tournament, giving the Spartans a bit of an extended break ahead of the NCAA tournament. The team certainly sees the extra week of prep as helpful.
“We can sharpen up on a lot of things, understand ourselves as a team more and get better offensively, because we’re not as sharp as we have been,” Spartans guard Joshua Langford said, via MLive.com. “This break is going to be great for us.”
The Spartans have the Big Ten’s most talented starting five and certainly can go deep in to the NCAA tournament, but this isn’t a team that screams classic Tom Izzo tournament run. Something seems off about this team heading in to the tournament, let’s see if they can find the spark to dominate like they have most of the season.
If not, expect this NCAA tournament run to not last very long.