Free Throw Futility Pushing Spartans to the Bubble

After Michigan State’s latest in a series of disappointing loss, this time at the hands of the Illini, a berth in the NCAA Tournament has become less and less of a certainty. MSU has not been left out of the big dance since 1997, but this could be the year the streak is snapped. This fall from grace can be attributed mainly to atrocious free throw shooting.

Free throws are the easiest way to get points, yet MSU cannot seem to figure out this concept. The Spartans are dead last in the Big Ten in free throw percentage and No. 330 in the nation as of Feb. 7. Teams that struggle from the line tend to struggle in March, plain and simple. If this season-long slump continues, MSU might be accepting a bid in the NIT.

Futility from the charity stripe has lost several key games for the Spartans. In the overtime loss to Notre Dame in South Bend, MSU shot 5-9 from the line. Only nine attempts in a game is absolutely unforgivable. In the embarrassing overtime loss to Texas Southern, MSU went 12-21 on their freebies. In the first Maryland loss in double overtime at home, the Spartans shot 19-28.

In the two-point loss at Nebraska, MSU bricked 10 of their 25 attempts. And finally in the latest loss to the Illini, Tom Izzo’s squad went 7-18 from the stripe, their second worst performance of the season, barely ahead of the 4-13 “effort” in a crushing loss against Maryland. That adds up to five losses that would have been wins in previous years when the lid on the basket wasn’t there.

“We’re just going to have to shoot free throws until people’s hands have blisters on them. It’s ridiculous,” said Izzo after the loss to Illinois on Saturday. “We’ve addressed it and we’ve brought guys in. Sooner or later, you have to be able to step up and shoot a free throw.”

According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, the Bracketology expert, MSU is projected to earn a 9-seed. CBS Sports’ Bracketology expert, Jerry Palm, has the Spartans in the first four out category. The way this team is playing right now, a 9-seed is a gift from the heavens. The bubble is uncharted territory for the Spartans, but they bricked themselves right onto it.

MSU is currently 6-4 in the conference, three games behind frontrunner Wisconsin with eight games remaining. If the Spartans want to guarantee a berth in the NCAA Tournament, they cannot afford to lose any more bad games.

Trips to Northwestern, Illinois and Michigan are very losable based on how the team is performing right now, and a matchup with Wisconsin at the Kohl Center is virtually unwinnable. If MSU drops any of those games, March Madness will become more like a dream.

Blake Froling is the co-host of Impact Izzone and a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports