Michigan State's Cassius Winston and Rocket Watts talk about the loss to Kentucky in the Champions Classic on Tuesday night in New York. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
It’s basketball season.
That much is clear in the Michigan State mailbag as the Spartans’ loss to Kentucky in the Champions Classic dominated the discussion this week.
That the football team is on a three-game losing streak and is preparing to face Illinois might have something to do with it, but the buzz around the basketball team now that the regular season is underway is overtaking the fan base.
It’s a frustrated fan base, to be sure, as we dive into the backup point guard situation, who’s stepping up at power forward and what’s the deal with the poor shooting.
Q. Based on what you saw last night, who do you forecast as the main backup for Cassius this season? Will Foster be serviceable or will it be Rocket more and more as the season progresses? — @RickDarnell8
A. One thing I’m certain of is against a team like Kentucky it’s hard to see what role Loyer can have. With the combination of length and athleticism the Wildcats possess, it was clear Loyer was in over his head. On some level it’s disappointing that it appears he doesn’t measure up in that scenario. That said, Michigan State likely won’t play another team that will be able to defend like Kentucky did, so it’s not like Loyer won’t have a role, especially in Big Ten play.
It was telling that late in the game, when Winston picked up his fourth foul, it was Watts who got the call from Tom Izzo. My hunch is that will happen more and more as the season progresses, especially as Watts continues to become more comfortable overall. Michigan State is asking a lot of Watts, something that became more significant when Joshua Langford was lost until at least January. But even after a slow start offensively, Watts looks like a player who can flourish in his role.
Q. Is the moving back of the 3-point line really that big of a deal because it certainly seemed like it last night? — @chasetommy4
A. Eh, not really. By the end of the season we might see the shooting percentages drop a bit, but overall I don’t think it’s going to be significant. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong on this one, but perimeter shooting was a concern for Michigan State entering the season and that proved to be the case against Kentucky. The numbers were ugly, to be sure. Making just 5-of-26 from long range is an eye-opener, especially considering the open looks the Spartans were missing late in the game.
But I’m betting the odds on a guy like Winston. No way he shoots 1-for-7 every game. Beyond that, we’ll see. No one outside of Langford has shown to be a consistently good 3-pointer shooter to this point, so I think the jury is still out on whether this team will be a good shooting team, regardless of where the 3-point line is.
Q. Literally the worst first half of basketball I have ever seen. The fouls and bricks were overwhelming. Having said that, these guys will be very good. Gimme more Bingham! — @MortNWinniesDad
A. It was a tough watch, that’s for sure. And I’m not so sure it’s just the number of fouls but the fact it seemed like so many were questionable calls, at best. In other words, it looked like a lot of minor stuff that just as easily could have been allowed to slide, something that would almost certainly have allowed for both teams to find a bit more of a rhythm.
As for Bingham, yes, there were some good moments, mostly in the first half when he played almost 11 minutes because of the foul trouble with Xavier Tillman, Thomas Kithier and Malik Hall. But you also see the places he needs to get better as there were a couple of critical turnovers in the second half. Izzo was glad to see Bingham took some steps but cautioned against taking too much from one game, so we’ll see how he fits into the rotation moving forward.
Q. I thought Marcus Bingham handled himself well vs. Kentucky. The more physical Big Ten might be a different story. Did he carve out a bigger role last night? — @daveholz
A. See above. Bingham was one of the few players who had the length to match Kentucky, but the head-scratching mistakes are still there and Izzo isn’t about to commit to big minutes for Bingham until those things are cleaned up.
Q. Why does Izzo play in the Champions Classic? Losing four straight is embarrassing! — @MattC2525
A. This is a serious question? Why does he play in the Champions Classic? I feel confident in saying it’s not to keep you from being embarrassed or not. This is the epitome of the wild overreactions seen early in the season, even more so this time around. It’s hard to figure out why. Maybe because MSU was No. 1 this time? Hard to say, but this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this — so many panicking and making grand declarations about the season and program. And trust me, my timeline and inbox prove there’s plenty out there who insist the season is over and the program proved once again it doesn’t measure up.
Is the Kansas fan base feeling the same way today? A team that many think is the best just turned the ball over 28 times and lost by two to a young Duke team that isn’t nearly as good as last year’s. I guess we could go back and see the same sort of stuff last year after the loss to Kansas or two years ago after the loss to Duke. MSU won Big Ten titles in both seasons and reached the Final Four last year. I guess I’m saying, relax, the time for panic is way down the line.
Q. More likely scenario at this point for football: 5-7 or 7-5? — @RickDarnell8
A. Good to see we’ll mix some football in here this week. Without a doubt the more likely scenario is 7-5. I understand fans are frustrated with the anemic offense, but the remaining schedule means 5-7 would take a remarkable collapse. Rutgers is basically an auto-win and Maryland isn’t far off that with the inability to stop anyone. And as interesting as Illinois is having won three in a row, there’s a reason the Fighting Illini are double-digit underdogs.
Get a win on Saturday and it’s hard to not see this team finish with seven wins with a trip to a middle-tier bowl game, likely the Pinstripe Bowl. From there it’s can this team pull the upset in Ann Arbor and get to eight wins? Probably not, but a better chance of that than 5-7.
Q. Any news on Allen, Stewart and Jarvis out for FB? — @Aurelius291
A. Only what Mark Dantonio has begrudgingly made public this week, which isn’t much. Matt Allen was hurt late in the Penn State game when everyone was scrambling for a fumble while Stewart was hurt in the first half. Rumblings I’ve heard say Stewart returning is unlikely though it’s less clear on Allen. As for Kevin Jarvis, he’s still not on the depth chart which means he’s not exactly close to getting back, so it’s just a guess on him at this point.