Not surprisingly, there is plenty of talk this week about basketball as No. 2 Michigan State lost to No. 1 Duke in the Champions Classic.
Some folks are panicking, some are concerned. We’ll address many of those concerns this week in the Michigan State mailbag.
But don’t forget football. Sure, the Spartans got whipped in Columbus last week, but there’s plenty to play for, including where Michigan State will spend the holidays.
■ Question: Ranked at 17 how much of a shot do we have at a New Year’s Six bowl game? What bowl game do you see the team playing in? — @coachculp
■ Answer: My buddy @daveholz essentially wondered the same thing — in what bowl will Michigan State end up playing? That’s still pretty tough to tell with a couple of weeks to go in the regular season. Can Michigan State play in a New Year’s Six game? I’d say that’s a long shot after the loss to Ohio State. At this point you’ve gotta figure Wisconsin and Ohio State for at least that and maybe a third team. At this point, Penn State might get that nod based on its 10 wins, but that’s far from a guarantee, and it’s quite likely the Big Ten only has two teams in the major bowls. Michigan and Northwestern also would be in the mix, but if I had to pick right now, assuming Michigan State wins its final two games, the Spartans will be in either the Citrus Bowl in Orlando or the Outback Bowl in Tampa, both on Jan. 1. The next choice would be the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 28.
■ Q. Both Langford and McQuaid seem to have stagnated offensively. Do you think what we see is what we get with them, or do they have higher individual ceilings? — @WaiteMarc
■ A. I think the answer is different for each. With McQuaid, I do believe we’ve moved into the what-we-see-is-what-we-get territory. There were certainly high expectations for McQuaid, especially after the Kansas game — the second game of his career — when he hit three big 3-pointers and contributed a blocked shot in the Champions Classic win. However, the growth hasn’t come. He played out of position often that first season and was working back from hernia surgery last season. However, the Spartans need McQuaid to be a consistent shooting threat and he simply hasn’t been.
As for Langford, I’m not making any grand declarations at this point. No, he hasn’t provided that consistent threat from the perimeter, either, but I’ll give him a bit of a pass with the hamstring injury last season. The pass doesn’t last forever, though, and the 3-for-9 nights are becoming too common. Langford can contribute attacking the basket and rebounding, but the Spartans need him to make shots.
■ Q. When is Izzo going to tell the team not to treat the ball like a hot potato and try to make impossible passes? — @bg8675309
■ A. Well, we’re exaggerating a bit, but your point is well taken. Michigan State is simply turning the ball over too much. It gave the ball away 21 times in the win over North Florida and followed that with 17 in the loss to Duke. Some of the turnovers were fairly run-of-the mill stuff, basically things that will happen in every game. But you’re right, there have been times the Spartans have tried to get too cute the ball or simply just handed it over. Some of that is pressing, trying to make a play in a big game. We saw that some in the Duke game and we also saw a Blue Devils team that has impressive length and athleticism playing a zone the Spartans haven’t seen much.
All of those are simply excuses, and Tom Izzo understands that. Is there a magic answer to getting a team to value the ball? Probably not, but there’s no doubt it’s been a point of emphasis for Izzo and his staff.
■ Q. Why in the world does Izzo not like playing with Ward? He should average at least 25 minutes a game? — @MaxRothley
■ A. Another legitimate question, one that has been around from early last season. Many believe that Nick Ward should play at least 25 minutes a game and with added depth in the frontcourt this season, foul trouble shouldn’t limit his minutes. But Izzo has been pretty clear about this the entire time — scoring 20 is great, but not when you give up 20. Has Ward been better defensively? Yes, and he was OK for the most part against Duke. But there were still times he got lost. And don’t discount the rebounding issue. Ward had just five on a night Duke dominated the glass.
Michigan State absolutely needs Ward’s low-post scoring, but he needs to continue to work to be a complete player.
■ Q. Is Miles Bridges too nice? He played terrible tonight. No attitude, no fifth gear. Great kid, great talent, no drive. — @SeanscSs
■ A. First off, let’s get this straight. Miles Bridges didn’t play terrible. He was 5-for-10 from 3-point range and 7-for-15 from the floor, so it’s not like he wasn’t scoring. Yes, the five turnovers were bad but he also blocked four shots. Last year against Kentucky when he turned it over nine times and was 2-for-11? That’s terrible. As for too nice? Not sure I’d go that far. Miles Bridges wants to win as badly as anyone, but sometimes you wonder about that “killer instinct,” the same that we’ve seen from guys like Denzel Valentine in the past who just take a game over and will their team to a win. Bridges has the ability to do that, but we haven’t seen it often. He was bothered by the zone against Duke and it’s a worthy debate wondering if Michigan State should have had him in the middle of that zone or running the baseline.
But Michigan State needed him to be “the guy” in that game. They needed him to have that “killer instinct.” It might be in there, and if it is, Bridges needs to let it out.