Young Spartans Still Learning to Play Together

This article first appeared on SpartanAvenue.com.

Michigan State basketball looked flat against Penn State, but it’s too early write this team off as underachievers.

Michigan State’s defeat against Penn State in Philadelphia this past Saturday brought out the worst of Spartan Nation, with some even going as far as to question the coaching chops of Tom Izzo and, interestingly, football coach Mark Dantonio. While I’m not even going to touch that nonsensical chatter, I felt it necessary to address the concerns over the state of this MSU hoops team.

There’s no denying that Michigan State did not look the part of a Big Ten contender against the Nittany Lions. The Spartans’ effort was lackluster and that’s never going to be acceptable as long as Izzo is pacing the sideline. Certainly, this is something we can all expect to be fixed when the Spartans face Minnesota in their next game.

While I’m definitely not going to defend a passionless performance, it’s not all that surprising that this team looked complacent against Penn State.

Despite Izzo’s best efforts to emphasize the importance this game would have for the six Philly natives on PSU (plus head coach Pat Chambers), MSU failed to match the intensity of the motivated Nittany Lions. With the Spartans relying so heavily on true freshman learning on the fly what it’s like to play a Big Ten schedule, it’s easy to see why it happened.

Penn State was a team that had just blown a double-digit lead late to Michigan and, while I’m sure MSU did not overlook them, the frosh did not play with enough urgency when PSU took a similar lead against the Spartans.

After MSU’s rousing come-from-behind win over Minnesota, maybe the Spartans did not view the deficit as enough of a challenge to give an inspired effort. This will serve as a good learning opportunity for MSU the next time it finds itself facing a substantial deficit against a motivated team.

Moving away from effort’s role in the loss, I’m not all that worried about how the Spartans played against the Nittany Lions. Michigan State basketball answered some important questions about the makeup of its squad while Miles Bridges was out for six games with his ankle injury, but it was foolish for fans to expect a flawless integration of the phenom back into the lineup.

Roles have changed since Bridges last played extended minutes for this MSU team. Fellow frosh Nick Ward is now a go-to option. Cassius Winston has assumed the starting point guard duties. Eron Harris fell back into more of a reserve role as he continued to struggle with consistency. Adding a future first-round NBA draft pick back into that mix alters this team’s identity again.

While Bridges played sparingly in Michigan State’s victory over Rutgers, the Penn State matchup marked his official return to the lineup. With just one game under his belt with this new-look MSU rotation, it’s premature to say Bridges and his co-stars will fail to live up to expectations.

It’s not time to panic, Spartan fans — this squad is just taking its first steps together.

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