The Michigan State Spartans head coach, Tom Izzo, is known for preparing his team for the month of March. Year-after-year, Izzo seems to always work the kinks out of his teams. The Spartans struggled for the majority of the season, but things have turned around. After taking down the Michigan Wolverines on Sunday, the Spartans should be safely in the NCAA Tournament. This will mark the 23rd consecutive March Madness appearance for Michigan State under Izzo.
Michigan State just punched its ticket with a win over rival Michigan.
Victories over Illinois, Ohio State and now the Wolverines. … With a guy named Izzo at the helm.
The Streak will extend to 23 consecutive NCAA tourney appearances.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) March 7, 2021
Navigating Through a Monster Schedule
The Big Ten conference in the 2020-21 season has been brutal. The 2020-21 Big Ten could very well be one of the better college basketball conferences in recent memory. Of course, belonging to the Big Ten meant a very difficult schedule for the 2020-21 Spartans. According to Kenpom, Michigan State had the fifth toughest schedule. In addition, the Spartans were third in best offenses faced and 14th in best defenses faced.
Michigan State slumped for a long time since their schedule was so unforgiving. During the Spartans’ learning-curve, they were not good enough to win in the Big Ten and had to live with the losses. However by trusting Izzo’s process, Michigan State is now playing their best ball at the perfect time. In the past seven games, the Spartans are 5-2. In this stretch, Michigan State defeated the Illinois Fighting Illini, Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan. All of which rank in the top seven of Kenpom’s rankings.
Well Rounded Defense
Michigan State has been solid on the defensive end this season. While being third in best offenses played, the Spartans still are 35th in defensive efficiency. Also, they are good at closing on three point shots as they hold opponents to 31.6% from three. Ranked 55th, the Spartans limit opponents to 6.2 made threes per contest.
The Spartans are also a good shot-blocking team. Ranked 19th, Michigan State rejects 4.7 shots per contest. In addition, opponents see 8.2% of their shots swatted by a Spartan defender. Considering the elite offenses Michigan State has been tasked with slowing down, these defensive stats are good when put into perspective.
Stepping-Up in March
The Spartans would be left out of March Madness if it was not for several players stepping-up big time. Michigan State’s leading scorer is the 6-foot-6 forward Aaron Henry, he contributes with 15.5 points per contest. In the past three games, Henry has increased his scoring by averaging eighteen points per game.
Not only Henry increased their production, the Marquette Golden Eagle transfer Joey Hauser has become really efficient the last six games. Hauser shoots a solid 47.8%, but his field goal percentage has went up to a staggering 59.5% in the past six contests.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is the elevated play of the highly-touted guard Rocket Watts. Watts was recruited heavily throughout high school and put together a solid freshman season. In his sophomore season, many people expected a big jump in the play of Watts. The Spartan guard has not fulfilled these expectations yet, but Watts had an offensive explosion in Sunday’s win against Michigan. Watts racked up 21 points while shooting 50% in the massive win versus the in-state rival Michigan. With the NCAA Tournament nearing, Watts is an x-factor to watch for the Spartans.
Michigan State is seeded anywhere from nine to eleven right now. Most brackets are differing in regards to the Spartans’ seeding. More opportunities await Michigan State as they attempt to bolster their seeding. One common upset in March Madness is a 8 or 9 seed taking down a 1 seed in the Round of 32. Michigan State reasonably could be an 8 or 9 seed, and could be an attractive, surprise Sweet 16 team that pulls off a major upset against a title favorite.
Obviously after defeating three top seven teams so quickly shows the Spartans’ potential. If players like Watts or Hauser consistently score more, Michigan State could be a team to watch. Led by Izzo, the Spartans are certainly an intriguing team to keep an eye on.
All stats courtesy of ESPN, Kenpom and Team Rankings.