In a 25-point loss in Michigan State to Minnesota on Monday, there were plenty of fouls to be found on both sides of the court.
But no one wondered where Tom Izzo saw his team’s biggest problems. He called his team’s offensive performance a “rocky bottom”.
So how does the state of Michigan rise from the bottom?
Some of these problems will resolve themselves. The state of Michigan won’t shoot 25% of the court very often (they hadn’t done so for eight years before Monday).
But the team’s problems go beyond a single bad night of filming. In conference, the Spartans are offensively penultimate of the Big Ten, in terms of efficiency. It indicates more than just a shooting crisis.
After a few days of practice leading up to Saturday’s game in Nebraska, here are some of the key changes Michigan State is looking to make to boost their score.
Change back area
Point guard Rocket Watts ‘experience is officially on hiatus, as the Spartans’ second year will focus on guard shooting going forward.
This change should help the Spartans offense in two ways: increasing Watts’ low number of shots (he’s 14% in the Big Ten game) by allowing him to focus more on his score; and play a leader who is more comfortable leading the team and creating for others.
Izzo has indicated that Foster Loyer’s role will largely remain the same. The player who is expected to see the biggest role increase as a result of this change is AJ Hoggard. He gave the Spartans a good 15 minutes against Minnesota as one of the few bright spots and could be given a bigger role as a facilitator in the future.
“He has a sense of leading a team because that’s what he did,” Izzo said of Hoggard. “He was recruited as a playmaker.
Get to the line
Some of the Michigan state’s free throw numbers are downright shocking. Watts hasn’t shot a single since Dec. 4, in five games. Joshua Langford has shot four all year. Aaron Henry only shoots two per game in the Big Ten game. The team’s free throw rate, its ratio of free throw attempts to field goal attempts, is penultimate in the Big Ten.
Increasing those free throw attempts can be a remedy for bad shooting nights like Mondays. If you can’t shoot, try shooting at the free throw line.
“It sometimes stops the bleeding, I don’t think there is any question about it and it could help us,” Izzo said.
Henry has said he will look to focus on being more aggressive in both half-court attack and counterattack.
But increasing the team’s free throw rate also goes with the first problem. Some players, especially Watts, are athletic enough to put the ball on the ground and commit these faults on their own. But a good playmaker can help teammates get the ball in a good position to make contact and reach the line.
Michigan state’s low shooting percentage on Tuesday was not just a collapse. Part of it was because he had been content with too many difficult punches. These types of shots not only lead to misfires, but can also help trigger quick pauses in the other direction.
“The poorest shots any of my teams have fired in the past seven or eight years,” said Izzo. “We took a few bad shots. “
Izzo highlighted Watts and Joshua Langford in particular as players who have taken too many low percentage shots lately and need to work to improve in this area.
Others, however, like Henry and Joey Hauser, take better shots. Izzo wants to see more shots from them, especially Hauser, who had the best individual game recently when he dropped 27 points to Wisconsin two games ago.