When Michigan State beat Maryland on Jan. 4, the Spartans were 15-1 and the No. 1 team in the country. Since then, they've gone 4-2 and dropped to No. 6. What's changed for the team in the past three-odd weeks?
After the win against Maryland, the team definitely went into a lull offensively. What really hurt the Spartans in their two losses since the matchup with the Terps was a combination of stagnant offense and the opposing team's best player simply going off and getting whatever they wanted against Michigan State's defense.
In Columbus, the team shot just 39 percent from the field, which remains the its second-worst shooting output this season, and Ohio State forward Keita Bates-Diop scored a career-high 32 points and pretty much torched every Michigan State defender that was put in front of him.
In the loss to Michigan a couple of games later, the same issues that plagued the Spartans against the Buckeyes hurt them against the Wolverines. Moritz Wagner went off for a career-high 27 points, and the team's offense looked really stagnant, especially down the stretch. They couldn't run their sets smoothly during the most important minutes of the game, and Michigan took advantage of that.
Even in its win over Rutgers on Jan. 10, Michigan State had moments where the offense looked out of sync, and the Scarlet Knights were able to climb back into the game and push the Spartans into overtime.
Against Illinois on Monday, Michigan State turned the ball over 27 times. Was that just a one-game fluke, or is it something that could continue to be a problem down the stretch?
The 25 turnovers against the Fighting Illini was a season high for the Spartans and the most they've had in a game since 2005, so I don't think they will be that sloppy again this season. But giving the ball away has been the most consistent problem for the team, and if you asked the players they would tell you it's their Achilles heel.
The Spartans have turned the ball over 316 times on the year, which ranks 302nd in the country. Michigan State's offense is very fast-paced and is predicated on swinging the ball from side to side, and when you have a team that likes to pass the ball a lot, turnovers are bound to happen because of the tendency to over-pass at times. That's what often plagues this Spartan offense.
Through the ups and the downs for the Spartans, Miles Bridges has been a steadying force. He's no stranger to that, having stuck with the team through its 10-8 conference finish in 2016-17. How has the sophomore responded to this recent adversity?
His numbers won't show it, but Miles had something of a slow start to the season, at least by his usual standards. There have been times this year where he's been selfless to a fault trying to get his teammates more involved. Against North Carolina in the final round of the PK80 invitational, Miles took only nine shots, and a few weeks later against Oakland in Detroit, he attempted just 10 shots. Throughout the season, there have been several more games like those where the sophomore wouldn't shoot as much and would look passive.
After the Spartans' close win over Rutgers, Tom Izzo challenged Miles to be more of a "jerk" and be more assertive in making plays for himself on offense. Since then, Miles has attempted at least 13 shots in each game and has scored at least 24 points in the team's last two outings. So it's safe to say the sophomore is beginning to hit his stride offensively.
The last time the Spartans came to College Park, Nick Ward scored 22 points and grabbed 16 rebounds. But he's been inconsistent recently, averaging 10.2 points through the team's 4-2 stretch. What's to blame for this volatility? Which version of Ward do you expect the Terps to see?
Overall throughout the season, Ward has been really efficient. Prior to the Ohio State loss, he had a five-game stretch where he shot 75 percent or better, and he's shooting 70 percent overall on the year, which is the best on the team. Against the Buckeyes, Ward took just one shot in 26 minutes of action, and he had only five attempts against the Wolverines.
Ward's limited production recently is mainly due to him constantly being double-teamed by opponents, and instead of forcing bad shots, he's been improving at being patient and passing out of the double team. If the Terps — like most other teams — try to send an extra defender at Ward every time he catches the ball on the low block, then I would expect to see more of the same from Ward in terms of him not forcing anything on offense.
The Spartans have started to return to form recently, with three straight double-digit wins. What would it take for the Terps to pull off the upset at home?
In their wins over Michigan State, both Ohio State and Michigan were able to disrupt Tom Izzo's offense by consistently getting back on defense in transition and not letting the Spartans run their offensive sets to fluidity, which led to them being stagnant on that end too often. For the Terps to pull out a win, they would need to do much of the same on the defensive end. The Spartans will let you back in the game due to their tendency to get careless with the basketball, so forcing turnovers should be another talking point for the Terps going into the game.