Tom Izzo's team is long on problems and short on answers.  photo provided by Mark Boomgaard.

Tom Izzo's team is long on problems and short on answers. photo provided by Mark Boomgaard.

Three Too Many?

The Spartans have had a look at a lot of open 3-pointers lately.  The Spartans have taken a lot of those open 3s lately.  But unfortunately, the Spartans haven’t made many (ex. 0-9 in the 1st half last night, 4-18 overall).  For the season, MSU was 37.2% from behind the arc coming into the week’s play, which ranked MSU 70th in the nation.  To many, it’s not that State’s percentage is so low, it’s that they’ve seemed to become too “3 jack happy” at times.  That tendency has shortened possessions and worked to the advantage of their opponents.

“Well I think we are (relying too much on the 3)…we’d like to take 20 (per game)…and we’ve been averaging a little over 20,” Tom Izzo told Spartan Nation.  Too many 3s means too few trips to the Foul Line, amongst other things.

Izzo’s statement alone suggests there’s been a slight shift to the traditional “ground and pound” half-court Spartan Offense, but it doesn’t mean that MSU wants to completely abandon its brand identity.  Just because the Spartans are open to taking more 3s doesn’t necessarily mean they should fire them up anytime they’re open.  It’s not always that easy, however, because wide open 3s aren’t that easy to pass up.

“(Versus Indiana) we called a couple of plays late to get it inside, and Durrell (Summers) was so open that, it’s hard to negate him taking that,” Izzo explained.  “And yet we’re not making them…so we’ve gotta go in there (inside),” he explained.

The solution to taking too many 3s isn’t as simple as just pounding it down low to open up the Offense.  MSU will have work a more balanced attack all the way around, and they will have to make more shots.  “What happens is teams start “sagging in” because you’re not hitting 3s, and it’s not as easy to get it in there,” Izzo explained.  Yet, Izzo liked some of the positional savvy he got out of Nix Sunday night against Indiana.  “I thought Nix did a great job of posting deeper, and that helped us give us some good ideas of where we can get it in and how we can get it in.  Hopefully we can build on that.”

If the Spartans really want to improve their 3-point game, they should probably start with their Defense of the triple.  Coming into the week, opponents were shooting 37.5% against MSU, which ranks 307th (out of 346) in the Nation.  That’s an issue to address with immediate urgency.

Go Big or Go Down?

As crazy as the lineups have looked in 2011, they’re about to change again.  With the additional roster upheaval (see Lucious’ suspension) of last week, the Spartans find themselves once again without a key member of their playing group.  To make this loss even more of a challenge, there’s really no replacing Korie Lucious this year.  MSU is now two guards short from the previous two Final Four runs (Lucious and Chris Allen), without Russell Byrd (Rs.) to help fill the void, and again facing a change in the team’s identity.  So now what?

Tom Izzo’s unit that has mostly featured “small” lineups so far, often flashing three Guards at a time, might soon begin to look like a more traditional bunch.  “A lot of it comes down to who you play,” Tom Izzo told Spartan Nation earlier this week.  “We have played a lot of smaller lineup teams recently.”

The upcoming schedule doesn’t feature as many smaller and quicker units, which leads Spartan Nation to expect we’ll see more of a “classic” look for a while.  “It’s (playing against smaller teams) put us in a position where it’s hard to play two “Bigs” at a time, Izzo explained.  “So as we do play more (bigger) teams, we could get away with (playing a Center, Power Forward, and Small Forward up front) that”.

Spartan Nation got a decent look at Derrick Nix (So. C) Sunday night against Indiana, and Nix probably had one of his best three games in Green and White.  Many are interested to see how well MSU will play with either Nix, Garrick Sherman (So. C), or Adreian Payne (Fr. C) in the flow.

With either Nix, Sherman, or Payne mixing it up in the middle, the Spartans front line could simultaneously feature defensive stopper Delvon Roe (Jr. F) and Draymond Green (Jr. F).  “Well I think we’re going to have to play Green a little more at the “3” (Small Forward) as we go from here,” Izzo admitted.  But while that move could make the Spartans stronger up front, it could also raise another growing issue.

“There’s no question that we’re getting into foul trouble,” Izzo confessed.  And that’s a concern that will stick with the Spartans for the rest of the year now.  Adjustments are already in the works, and even a mention of the mysterious “Z” word.  “Sooner or later we’re going to have to play some “Zone” (Defense) with the way the Foul trouble is going,” Izzo explained.  You know it’s an unusual year for Spartan Basketball when the “Z” word is being thrown around by the top disciple of Jud Heathcote.  It’ll get even wackier when the Spartans actually play some zone consistently.

Other “role players” like Mike Kebler (Sr. G) and Austin Thorton (Jr. G) will probably have expanded roles.  If you recall, Kebler defended well towards the end of last season’s run, and will likely be counted on again to defend and help run the Offense.  If the Spartans are going to turn this season around, they could use a defensive boost from the Mid-Michigan Senior.

For those in the Spartan Nation that wondered why Payne, Nix and Sherman didn’t get more time on the court earlier this year, they should now get their wish by necessity.  Hopefully Lucious’ loss is the last major lineup adjustment MSU will have to make this year.  A team that headed into 2011 last April citing depth as a strength can now instead list depth as a serious threat to extending the Spartans’ annual march to the NCAA Tournament.

The Spot Up 3: Three Quick Points to Ponder

  1. In 2009, Tom Izzo marveled at the UNC Tar Heel upperclassmen that chose to return and chase a National Championship rather than forgo remaining eligibility to declare for the NBA draft.  The MSU players who returned this year under similar circumstances have looked a lot more like they had to return rather than they chose to come back.
  2. The Big Ten Network’s “The Journey” is the best original programming yet on the Conference’s home station.  Hopefully they’ll figure out a Football version next year.
  3. The more the Spartans can impose their will in the front court will, the longer and more successful this season will be.  It’s time to Bang! Bang! Bang! down low, once again.

* Extra Point:  Steelers 33 – Packers 24…and hey NFL, play the Super Bowl on Saturday already!!!

Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JPSpartan or Interact with him Inside the Phalanx Forum

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