Michigan State uses raw talent to beat Southern Indiana – 3 points
The Spartans were simply the most talented athletes on Earth. There are a lot of questions about what they are beyond.
Michigan State hosted Southern Illinois for the second game of the season. The result looked significantly more important after the opening loss to James Maddison.
Michigan State came out and took care of business in the end, winning 74-51. The result shows a strong hit, and the performance on the field leaves a lot of questions.
Here’s my three-point shot (on a team that can’t seem to hit a three-pointer) on this win.
Point 1: This was a raw skill win, not a better team win
“Even though they have a 19-point lead, (Michigan State) is simply not playing well.” That was Big Ten broadcaster Robbie Hummel’s total with about 7 minutes left in the second half. Fit this game. Michigan State had a big win on the scoreboard but looked like a team still searching for a lot of things.
Unlike James Madison, Southern Indiana lacked the size and athleticism necessary to stay within striking distance of MSU. Michigan State athletes consistently exploited their advantages during the transition. In defense they used superior strength and length to compensate for slow turnovers and late assist defence.
The size differential affected Southern Indiana in several ways, most notably the poor differential. They didn’t help themselves by just shooting poorly.
MSU’s shooting was poor as well. The complete lack of three-point shooting is incomprehensible (yeah, I don’t have the words to describe it). The Spartans’ attacking combinations often looked weak and disorganized. The team appears to need leadership on the field – something AJ Hoggard simply does not provide this year.
The guys at MSU were the real spark tonight. It helps make sense that the Spartans would win big but look sloppy. This is what happens with freshmen who lead the way. The concern is the veteran presence who often appears absent for the third straight game.
Even in a game where Akins (more on him in a bit) and Hall found more ways to contribute (and frankly, Hall found ways to contribute positively in all three contests of consequence this year — even if he seemed to have no idea how to shoot the jumper for some reason), , I felt like the attack was becoming stagnant with the older lineup on the floor.
Michigan State has a surprising amount of fundamentals to work on for an experienced team. Everything from assist defense to rotation on offense and defense to rebounding needs to be cleaned up. Izzo has proven he can do that over the course of the season time and time again. It’s shocking to see the team need him this year.
Point 2: Akins showed up (finally) and is still finding himself
The Spartans’ veteran struggles can be best summed up by the play of Jaden Akins. Akins came into this season expected to be an all-around point generator and solid defender. The defense has been on display occasionally this year, but the offense has been mostly absent.
Jaden Akins made his first highlight play of the year, a powerful dunk from the wing in transition. Any time Akins has difficulty shooting, this is the approach he should take. In the pre-Queen Car world, Akins’ jumping ability was the stuff of legend in drills, and sometimes the highlight of the game. This move made it seem like the magic was still there.
Unfortunately, about halfway through the first half, Akins had a series where he struggled in transition. On the first play, he drove the lane and then tried to turn around and go back to Hoggard for what Akins likely thought would be a top three. Contact was broken and Hoggard literally ran at the ball and it ended up bouncing off him and spinning. After a play, Akins forced a steal and then went up for a layup that left him short. Again, Akins forced a turnover on defense, caught the ball on his own and carried it low to his waist for a huge dunk and was stripped naked. The tape was wrong but it didn’t look pretty for a veteran player.
Akins continued to fight and had another highlight moment at around the 7 minute mark. After displaying a full-court run on a few straight possessions, Akins leveled the Spartans with a shake-and-bake drive that ended in a pull-up play. She was beautiful and confident. The type of shot to expect from Akins this year.
The first half ended with a box score that showcased Akins’ all-around ability: 6 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals.
In the second half it was more up and down. He started to warm up a bit late as he excelled in transition. The concern was that transfer opportunities were counterbalanced by three turnovers.
Akins is still finding himself. His outside shot is lacking – along with his entire team. That must come. The game he can control is his leadership and movement on the court. His speed on the field separated him last year. And in two games, that hasn’t been evident enough this year.
Point 3: Mady Sissoko quietly had a good game – but that may not mean he is the best option
Sissoko had a double-double in the match. He (mostly) avoided contamination, and put up a lot of valuable displays. Sissoko may simply be what he will become: a big man with raw talent. It is unclear what a finished or polished Sissoko will look like at this stage. It may be academic, because it doesn’t look like he’ll be seen in a Spartan uniform.
However, Sissoko provides support and energy to the team. He is incredibly limited in post-action moves, but his rebounds are valuable for a team that is clearly struggling to get out.
Behind him, Carson Cooper also had a good game. Cooper still looks like the best long-term option for Michigan State. But in this match, Sissoko was better on the ground and in scoring inside the penalty area.
Fans should get used to this trade-off. Some nights, Sissoko will work, other nights Cooper will soak up more minutes as a much better option. At least until Jackson Koehler returns, it also appears that MSU will be aggressive with smaller lineups featuring Hall and/or Booker at the fifth position.
Approves? Disagree? Let me know what your takeaways from the game are in the comments.