Michigan State got off to a fast start, winning their first four games. After losing to No. 15 NC State, they rebounded by winning their next seven games, including victories over No. 3 Oregon and No. 16 Iowa. The recent loss to Northwestern was likely a wakeup call and Michigan State will go back to the drawing board. With a relatively weak Big Ten schedule ahead, Michigan State is in good shape to compete with Maryland, Minnesota and Iowa for the conference. Though winning the Big Ten is easier said than done, here’s what the Spartans need to do going forward in the season.
Keep an eye on player health
Keeping the starting five and the best bench players healthy goes without saying, but after a number of injuries plagued the 2017-18 season, the trainers and coaches need to pay close attention to any sign of injuries. Before the season even started injuries were flowing amongst Spartan players including an Achilles injury to Sidney Cooks. This year has seen Shay Colley sidelined for six games, Tory Ozment out for two (so far) and both Claire Hendrickson and Kayla Belles were used sparingly to not trigger previous injuries. This team is hot and injuries are the last thing it needs to slow down the momentum.
These two words seem to be the death of Michigan State. The Spartans are ninth in the Big Ten in free throw percentage at 70.1. Michigan State missed four free throws against N.C. State and while they did lose that game by just four points, even making one of those shots gives Michigan State a chance to hit a three and tie the game up. You can talk hypotheticals all day, but the bottom line is that Michigan State needs to make free throws to beat the teams at the top.
Keep the big playmakers going
The top players have made their presence felt on the court. Jenna Allen, Nia Clouden and Shay Colley have all had big impacts when they are playing. The bench is almost always a reliable source of energy and provides Michigan State with fresh bodies. The Spartan offense is second in the nation in assists per game and first in the Big Ten in scoring. There’s no question as to what this explosive offense brings to the table.
Be nearly perfect against the middle tier of the conference
This one is pretty obvious. Any team needs to compete in their conference to have a legitimate resume built come time for March, but it’s a little different in the Big Ten. The conference is very top-heavy with Iowa, even if they were beaten by Michigan State, and Minnesota and Maryland reigning above the rest. Any loss to a team that isn’t at least towards the top can be detrimental to Michigan State’s reputation.
The victory over No. 16 Iowa was big, but the Spartans still need to face No. 4 Maryland at home and No. 12 Minnesota twice. A couple teams on the rise include Rutgers, who recently beat Maryland, and a surging 13-1 Indiana team will bring challenges to the table for Michigan State. The Spartans have proven they can win, but these are the games that matter, they can’t get cold now.