A 19-14 record and a third-round exit in the WNIT in the 2017-18 season isn’t something most teams would be happy about, and it’s no different with Michigan State. Add on the fact that five players graduated, four of which played in at least 28 games and you’ve got a Michigan State team that was hard to be optimistic about heading into the new year. Sure, there was a solid recruiting class, as they did get Nia Clouden along with a few decent players in Tory Ozment and Kayla Belles, but there was still only one senior in Jenna Allen.
Jenna Allen: A big what-if
Allen averaged 9.9 points per game last season and 7.1 over her three years at Michigan State. It’s easy to see why a Spartan fan might be a little nervous. Allen knew what Michigan State was going to be working with, as did everyone else on the team. She decided to look at all teams the same way, rankings didn’t mean anything.
She showed she was fearless, scoring 27 points to handle the No. 3 Oregon Ducks with one of the loudest crowds of the season at the Breslin Center. Allen did this again in the big games; Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, and Michigan twice, but she fell flat in the games that should’ve been a breeze. Maybe it’s because she wasn’t the most experienced senior to lead a team.
No matter the case, Allen is one of the better inexperienced players to lead a team. She showed flashes of greatness and assertiveness throughout the year and her career might be one of the bigger what-if players in Michigan State women’s basketball history. What if she had shown her skills off earlier? Maybe the Spartans would’ve gotten past Mississippi State in 2016 for the school’s fourth Sweet 16 appearance all-time. What if Allen hadn’t fallen off this year? This Michigan State team might have had something new to put in the trophy case.
Shay Colley: Handles like Kyrie… but she’s not there yet
Shay Colley struggled to find her place before coming to Michigan State. She started at South Carolina, then transferred to Pittsburgh, eventually finding her way to East Lansing. One year after leaving South Carolina, the Gamecocks hoisted the NCAA championship trophy. After sitting out a year due to NCAA transfer rules, the guard was finally able to show off her skills on the court. She did have a rather successful season last year, averaging 12.4 points and 4.5 assists while shooting 40 percent from the floor, but the big question was if she could do it again.
The redshirt-junior guard has had some moments that left crowds, or at least myself, in awe. She looked like some of the smoothest basketball players at times as she crossed over defenders… but she struggled to finish at the rim. She did increase her points per game average to 14.6, but she only shot 38.7 percent from the field.
Colley has the authority and the voice to take charge of the team, but she needs to get it together on the floor. She’s only behind Jenna Allen for most field goals attempted on the team, and she’s played in six fewer games. Colley can lead this team, alongside Taryn McCutcheon, to something special next year, she just has to give it a little more fire. It’s even more promising that she did this after coming off of an injury. A Shay Colley at 100 percent isn’t something most teams in the Big Ten would like to go against.
I walk this lonely road, down the boulevard of broken dreams
The iconic Green Day song is what can best describe this team on the road. It’s still a mystery as to what had this team looking so confused on the road. One possibility is having Shay Colley thrown back into the lineup after the Spartans had done so well without her. Putting a player back into the lineup after learning to play without her can mess things up. It’s similar to what the men’s basketball team did. After Nick Ward came back from a hand injury, Tom Izzo decided to have him come off the bench after seeing the team play so well with Xavier Tillman in the lineup.
Colley’s first game against Iowa was not great, as 15 minutes allowed the guard to shoot 1-of-8 from the field and walk away with three points, not a great line. She showed she was back after putting up 28 points on Northwestern in the next game, but the result was a loss, as was every Big Ten road game after that with the exception of Michigan. It’s tough to blame a team’s struggles on a player coming back, but sometimes that’s the case. Look at the 2017-18 Cleveland Cavaliers, Isaiah Thomas came back and suddenly the Cavs were out of it.
Again, it sounds weird to blame a season going the way it went on one of your best players coming back, but that seems to be the way in this case. It’s a bit of a head-scratcher as to why Suzy Merchant didn’t change the lineup back to the way that it once was to just see if that was the issue, but we’ll never know for sure if that’s what it was. Something that’s quite certain is that Jenna Allen put up 27 points against Oregon without Shay Colley.
It’s not fair to run through hypotheticals, as this team did also struggle at Hartford earlier in the year without Colley. Nonetheless, seeing a lineup without Colley and having the team play without her would have been interesting.
Overall, better than last year
There is no doubt that this year was better than last year, even if the Spartans do lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It would be disappointing to see the team at the very least not get out of the first round, but improving on last year’s record before even entering the Big Ten tournament was a significant stride. Hosting two rounds of the NCAA tournament would have been nice, but a tournament appearance alone is bigger than last year’s third round exit in the WNIT.
The Spartans drew the No. 9 seed in South Bend and are set to play Central Michigan this Saturday at 1 p.m. It won’t be easy. This same Central Michigan team upset No. 3-seeded Ohio State as a No. 11 seed in last year’s tournament. Nonetheless, the Spartans will have a chance to do something in the postseason. Next year, expect the content to create itself for this team.