East Lansing — The season is winding down as Michigan State has just three games left in the regular season.
The chase for at least a share of the Big Ten title is in high gear, and in this week’s mailbag, there are the usual questions regarding playing time and rotations.
However, after the NCAA Tournament committee released its top 16 seeds over the weekend and had Michigan State at No. 11 overall, Spartan fans are flustered. We hit that topic plenty in this week’s Michigan State mailbag.
■ Question. As far as playing teams with really good, tall bigs who can shoot (i.e. Wagner, Haas, Cook, etc.) why does Izzo use Ward on them defensively more than the taller, more athletic JJJ? Is it a foul concern? — @jsnev11
■ Answer. Well, let me start with the basis of your question. I wouldn’t necessarily include Isaac Haas and Tyler Cook in the bigs-who-can-shoot category. Can they hit a jumper? Sure. But they’re not the threat Moe Wagner is from outside. That said, Nick Ward played sparingly in each of the three games against Purdue, Michigan and Iowa. In fact, he played 14 minutes against Michigan, 12 against Iowa and 11 against Purdue. Some of it was foul trouble, but it was mostly the defensive challenge for Ward.
Now, the option hasn’t been Jaren Jackson. It’s been Gavin Schilling on most occasions, a player who is far more athletic and covers ball screens exponentially better than Ward. Jackson has had his own issues staying on the court, but when he is, he’s athletic enough to cover other forwards. So, at the five, you have to go with someone and Schilling has clearly been the best defender at the center spot. Ward is OK in straight post defense, but he still struggles on the screens.
■ Q. Is MSU now on the bubble because Nova lost last night? — @MattC2525
■ A. Yes. MSU is now on the bubble. OK, I know we’re messing around, but I understand the frustration of Michigan State fans. Here’s what might be worse — based on what the committee released over the weekend: Michigan State won’t have much of a chance to improve its resume outside of just adding wins. The Spartans might get a shot at Ohio State and/or Purdue in the Big Ten tournament, but I wonder how much that helps since it would potentially only help the Quadrant 1 wins a bit. Which leads us to the next question …
■ Q. With this stupid quadrant system, can MSU get a better seed? Even with the recent losses, it seems like good wins are more important than if a team loses. — @shelleygenord
■ A. First off, I’m not sure how dumb the quadrant system is. To me it just seems like a relabeling of how they looked at wins and losses relative to strength of schedule. The committee always has, it just didn’t give it proper names and set parameters. My big issue with it is the fact the quadrants are still based on RPI. There are so many other metrics, not to mention the good ole eye test. Why is the reliance still on the RPI?
All that said, as I stated already, there are few chances for Michigan State to improve the resume. Will others faltering be enough? I don’t know. Maybe MSU gets to a No. 2 seed, but based on what we’ve seen from the committee, I don’t know how it gets a 1, even if it runs the table.
■ Q. What’s with Izzo's refusal to lessen Tum's minutes? He’s a minus player. — @RandyCheadle
■ A. Randy, Randy, Randy. Didn’t we do this last week? I know we did, but let me point out in the two games since we last visited this topic Tum Tum Nairn played four minutes in one and 20 in the other, which happened to be a blowout from the second the ball tipped. Every starter played fewer minutes than their season average, so what are we upset about? Nairn played four minutes – 4 !!!! – in the biggest game of the season. It probably won’t be that drastic the rest of the way — Cassius Winston played 36 — but it is an indication of how the point guard spot will work the rest of the way.
■ Q. Should ESPN make retractions and update their report? — @swillsteve
■ A. They should make a retraction if something in their reporting is false. I’m not sure that is the case. Having said that, I believe there are holes in the story, some that would have kept me from running it the way it did. But the biggest issue to me is how it was presented and packaged. To tie in the incidents with the football and basketball programs with what happened in the Larry Nassar case was a bad move. The folks at ESPN will tell you, I would imagine, that they were portraying the culture at Michigan State. But, as it ran, it relied heavily on one source who said after the fact she wasn’t trying to single out the athletic department. In light of a retraction, maybe double back with the primary source and allow her to explain her stance.
Some other concerns I had include: Why was there no mention of how Mark Dantonio suspended four players last year while they were being investigated? There was plenty of attention to his answer during a press conference regarding that case, but virtually no mention of how it was handled. Also, how about some context? The number of cases they cited were given with no comparison to other universities with similar enrollments/athletic departments.