So, I took a break from the mailbag for a week, but that hardly kept things from happening.
The basketball team began its roughest stretch of the season by losing twice in three games, while the football team was moving forward with the departure of wide receivers Hunter Rison and Trishton Jackson, as well as co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett and defensive ends coach Mark Snyder.
So yeah, there’s plenty to talk about when it comes to what’s going on with the Spartans, including the panic level of fans over the basketball team’s slump, and where the football team goes from here both with the coaching staff and recruiting.
■ Question. What is the correct panic level on the scale of, “It’ll be OK, Izzo knows what he’s doing,” to “North Carolina is getting 6 inches of snow, chaos reigns?” — @TheAshiestJoe
■ Answer. I like your levels of panic, and I’m sure North Carolina was amidst chaos at one inch. But to your point, what should the panic level be? I know how this will come off, but after one week I’d hardly be freaking out about this team. We all remember the North Carolina game, the Notre Dame game, even — to an extent —the Duke game, right? Look, I get none of that matters if this season spirals out of control. And yes, there have been some troubling signs, including the way teams are keeping Nick Ward from getting the ball deep in the post and the turnovers (which have been around all season).
But I can’t imagine we’re looking at some sort of massive collapse. Players haven’t played as well, overall, but look at some of the positives. MSU is still shooting the ball well, and Jaren Jackson Jr. is becoming more of an all-around threat on the offensive end, getting to the free-throw line 13 times against Michigan. The Spartans still have more depth than anyone in the Big Ten, and they’re still the top team in the nation in two-point field-goal percentage defense and blocks. Yes, the ball-screen defense needs to be better and the fast break needs to come back to life. This isn’t just “In Izzo we trust,” but I’d have to see the same struggles over the next couple of weeks to truly move toward chaos.
■ Q. Does MSU need to mix in some form of zone defense to protect its guards from being abused on dribble drives by opposing guards? — @pnordgren04
■ A. Would it help Michigan State in certain matchups? I believe it absolutely would. But understand this: It’s not gonna happen. You can get as upset as you want with Tom Izzo and say he doesn’t know what he’s doing and is too stubborn. But I can count on one hand the times I’ve seen MSU run even a possession or two of zone in my time covering the team. Michigan State believes it’s a matter of playing man-to-man the right way, not about players being unable to do it. So, while a zone here and there might be effective, don’t count on it.
■ Q. How is Izzo rallying the team? — @boynebound
■ A. It’s not like he’s needed to bash game tapes with a hammer or throw on the football pads, but there has been plenty of film work over the last few days, and you can see the practices are pretty intense. Now look, they usually are, but these players are aware what’s happening and it doesn’t always mean they need a coach to hammer it home. They’re putting as much pressure on themselves as anyone to turn it around, so there is no magical way to get it turned around. It’s simply been attention to detail, taking a close look at how the three losses have differed in terms of what’s happening on the court. The idea of being “tougher” is fine, but the real focus has been on execution, something that has been lacking the last few games.
■ Q. Who are leading candidates to fill the vacant football coaching positions? — @mksz2010
■ A. A lot of names have been popping up, though nothing seems certain at this point. It does look like, at this point, there will be no other coaches departing after co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett and defensive ends coach Mark Snyder left for Florida State. Central Michigan defensive backs coach and former MSU grad assistant Archie Collins is still a possibility to take over the defensive backs, while former Spartan Chuck Bullough is a name to watch for another defensive slot. As for the 10th assistant, that could go a number of ways, but one name to pay attention to is former offensive coordinator Don Treadwell.
■ Q. What impact if any will Trishton Jackson and Hunter Rison’s departure have on the Spartans’ ability to land Tommy Bush or other top WR recruits this year? — @SpartyH
■ A. Well, the impact is it makes Michigan State a far more tempting option for someone like Tommy Bush. It doesn’t hurt Michigan State, that’s for sure. As far as Bush actually ending up at Michigan State, I’m not so sure that happens. There’s plenty of teams in the mix, including Georgia, Texas and Baylor. The Spartans will be making a final push before early February, but I think a more likely option is Jalen Nailor of Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas.
■ Q. Why all these Spartans transfers? — @markus05171093
■ A. Because that’s how it goes. The only one that would qualify as a surprise is Rison, but considering QB Messiah deWeaver was unlikely to get a shot at starting anytime soon, and Jackson had fallen down the depth chart, it’s not a shock they wanted to give it a shot somewhere else.
■ Q. How are we to differentiate ourselves from Penn State, and should we? How do we reconcile that our beloved school/home/identity ignored multiple complaints of sexual assault? — @benniesmalls15
■ A. By holding accountable those who enabled the man. I’m not judge and jury, and I’m not here to tell you who those people are, but when that is clear it can’t be brushed aside — no matter who it might be.