Michigan State basketball’s Tom Izzo sees pieces coming together, knows more work ahead


EAST LANSING — Back from the Bahamas, back to the grind.

That’s what Tom Izzo and Michigan State basketball’s coaches did Saturday, trying to solve some of the persistent issues facing the Spartans as they prepare to host Louisville in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Turnovers remain a problem, he admitted Monday. So has poor shooting. But Izzo is less concerned about the struggles of Max Christie and Joey Hauser missing shots than he is with some of the “ridiculous” giveaways MSU has committed.

BAHAMAS MEMORIES: What we’ve learned about Michigan State basketball at Battle 4 Atlantis

LAST TIME OUT: Michigan State stifled in second half, beaten by Baylor, 75-58, at Battle 4 Atlantis

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Still, he and his players believe the team emerged from their three games in three days a stronger unit from the experience.

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo calls a play for his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Butler in Indianapolis, Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021.

“Going into that tournament, I didn’t think 25 teams were better than us in the country,” senior center Marcus Bingham Jr. said after practice Monday afternoon. “Even the recognition that we got from the weekend is all good stuff for the hard work that we’re putting in. … A lot of guys are picking up on a lot of stuff. People are stepping up for other people.

“We’re building a good group right now.”

The Spartans (5-2) entered the USA TODAY Coaches Poll on Monday at No. 22, its first appearance this season in the rankings. They host the Cardinals (5-1) at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday on ESPN, just the second game at Breslin Center this season.

“The first thing our guys said when we got home is we haven’t been home, it seems like we never play a home game,” Izzo said Monday afternoon. “So I think that tournament will help us enormously.”

MSU showed its burgeoning fortitude with late victories in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament over Loyola Chicago (63-61) and No. 17 Connecticut (64-60), along with a strong first-half showing against defending national champion No. 4 Baylor before wilting in the second half, 75-58, in the championship game.

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“Loyola is a very good team — I mean, that’s a Quad 1 win,” Izzo said. “We played three games (in the Bahamas) against Quad 1 teams, and Kansas is the fourth one and the road game with Butler. … I thought Baylor physically hurt us a little bit; I thought mentally hurt us a lot. So I think mentally, we gotta get tougher and understand where we are, not necessarily physically right now.

“And some of that’s encouraging, because I think we have some things.”

Michigan State Spartans forward Joey Hauser (10) dribbles as Loyola Ramblers guard Braden Norris (4) defends Nov. 24, 2021 during the first half of the 2021 Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament at Imperial Arena.

The biggest concern remains the rate at which MSU is coughing up the ball. The Spartans committed 51 turnovers that led to 48 points for their opponents in the three games, including 22 points off of 19 turnovers against Baylor. The Spartans rank 320th in the nation at 16.7 turnovers a game and 334th with a minus-5.7 turnover margin.

“We’re working on it,” Izzo said. “Some of it is trying to put our whole group together. The pieces, I think, are great, but it’s getting that done and getting guys to kind of have a feel for one another. (The turnovers) still been of a ridiculous nature in my mind, not a lot that I can attribute to great defense on some of the cases.”

Izzo said he isn’t panicking about the shooting droughts Christie and Hauser are experiencing, calling them “the two guys I least worry about” while continuing to see them shoot well in practice.

The duo went a combined 8-for-35 overall and 3-for-15 on 3-point attempts in the Bahamas. Christie, a freshman, is shooting just 33.3% overall and 7-for-27 (25.9%) from 3-point range while averaging a team-leading 30.1 minutes seven games into the season. Hauser, a senior, is shooting only 31.4% overall and is 5-for-18 (27.8%) from deep.

“I think every shooter goes through slumps, from Michael Jordan to Larry Bird — some of the greatest shooters ever,” Izzo said. “We’ve all had good shooters that went into slumps here. Bryn Forbes went through a slump. … The number of good shots, that’s all we want. If he gets good shots. Joey Hauser will make those shots. In Max’s case, he’s getting a lot of attention, and learning how to deal with that is going to be what he’s got to do.”

Nov 25, 2021; Nassau, BHS; Michigan State Spartans guard Max Christie (5) drives to the basket past Connecticut Huskies guard Jordan Hawkins (24) during the first half in the 2021 Battle 4 Atlantis at Imperial Arena.

Izzo feels the Spartans need to take the ball to Christie’s side of the court more often first and foremost. Then, he wants his 6-foot-6 rookie to do something Jordan and former MSU great Steve Smith preached — get to the free-throw line more often to help pull yourself out of the slump and re-establish shooting confidence.

Christie agrees with his coach that he’s taking shots he’s capable of making, while also contributing in other areas. He said encountering a slump early in his college career is “all part of the growing process, and I’m not worried at all.”

“I’m a really good shooter, to be honest. Sometimes shots aren’t gonna fall, and they are gonna fall eventually. One game they may not be,” he said. “I mean, Steph Curry misses his shots all the time, too. It’s just something you have to deal with as a shooter. You gotta have a short memory — you miss one shot, you go right to the next one.”

Contact Chris Solari: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State basketball’s Tom Izzo sees pieces coming together



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