Spartans get decked in latest Tom Izzo lineup shuffle

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has been searching for the right combination all season.

Even as the Spartans started the season with six straight victories, Izzo has been tinkering with the rotation, playing 11 in most games and going to as many as 12 on some nights before games got out of hand.

That shuffling and pushing of different buttons continued as Michigan State lost its first two Big Ten games and headed to Minnesota on Monday looking to end the skid.

Michigan State's A.J. Hoggard (11) pushes up to the basket against Minnesota's Eric Curry (24) during the second half.

Against the Golden Gophers, Izzo moved Rocket Watts from point guard to shooting guard, inserted Foster Loyer into the starting lineup and brought Aaron Henry off the bench. He also gave meaningful minutes to guard A.J. Hoggard and center Mady Sissoko, two freshmen who have seen limited playing time.

Unfortunately for Michigan State, the outcome was the same as No. 21 Minnesota rolled to an 81-56 victory over No. 17 Michigan State, leaving the Spartans 0-3 in Big Ten play for the first time since the 2001-02 season.

“I didn't do it because I'm panicking,” Izzo said of the lineup shifts. “I'm doing it because I'm trying to figure out the right combinations and I was pretty upfront with you guys when we were winning games. This is no different. I said that was an issue and that's a problem. I want guys comfortable and I want Rocket to get comfortable because I need him.”

The move of Watts away from the point guard spot was what led to all the other moves. It came because Watts talked with Izzo and they decided to give him more time off of the ball, a position in which he flourished last year as a freshman before attempting to transition to point guard this year.

The moves didn’t work. Watts was 1-for-9 shooting with two assists while none of the other changes seemed to bring much value, either. Henry struggled coming off the bench, quickly turning the ball over twice before he settled in some to score 11 points but only shooting 3-for-10.

Joey Hauser also had a tough night, shooting 1-for-8, while Joshua Langford was just 2-for-10.

“Rocket hasn't been as comfortable at the one, so when I talked to him, I said I was gonna try to move him to the two,” Izzo said. “I thought I’d give Foster a little chance, and I needed somebody coming off the bench so I just tried Aaron there for a day and that's not gonna last.

“So, I'm just trying to help Rocket get through the things he's got to do. He was more comfortable at the two last year. And so, that's kind of the experiment. They are different experiments that you’ve got to do and it’s sad that you’ve got do them during the year, but we knew this problem from day one.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau