Michigan State was on fire through the first 13 games of the season, they even looked like a Big Ten championship-caliber team. They had only lost one game at the time and it was to what would be the last undefeated Division I team in NC State. Since their big home win over then-No. 16 Iowa, Michigan State has lost seven games on the road, two of them to teams under .500.
At home, the team was quite the opposite. Michigan State was a perfect 13-0 at home with big wins over No. 3 Oregon, No. 16 Iowa, No. 18 Minnesota and No. 9 Maryland. Despite the impressive home record, the Spartans’ road struggles seem to be spilling onto their own court now as well. When the Spartans hosted Indiana on Feb. 11, the Hoosiers played Michigan State tough for three quarters without their top scorer in Ali Patberg, but MSU ended up winning that game 77-61. Losing by a staggering score of 77-70 definitely speaks to where the Spartans are headed.
MSU’s first home loss has raised questions over their play in the latter stages of Big Ten games. Jenna Allen’s play in recent weeks, the defense, the road struggles – all burning questions that have separated this once-hot team from becoming real players in the Big Ten title race.
Lots of questions, not enough answers. Allen has definitely not been the same productive player she was in the first half of the year.
In the first 13 games of the season, the senior was averaging 16.5 points while grabbing 8.6 rebounds per game. In the last 14 games, she’s averaged 9.2 points and just 5.5 rebounds per game. Suzy Merchant wasn’t too pleased with her veteran center, saying she needs to get out of whatever slump she’s gotten in to.
“Jenna’s just completely gone away for us on the offensive end,” said Merchant. “She’s got to get mentally tougher because it’s not a physical thing.”
Allen’s slump is drastically affecting the team. The way she used to dominate in the paint has been absent from her game and was a big reason Michigan State was as efficient on the offensive side of the ball as they were. Whether she’s dropping 27 points against Oregon or she’s failing to make a basket at Wisconsin, her impact is felt.
The defense has also seen a dip in efficiency since Northwestern. In the first 13 games, opponents were averaging 64.5 points per game against the Spartans. In the last 14 games, opponents have averaged nearly 71 points per game. Merchant spoke about the defensive woes after the Ohio State loss, particularly putting the blame on Shay Colley.
“Shay’s been struggling defensively for us to start,” said Merchant. “It’s a mental toughness thing right now, it’s the same thing that got us earlier in the year.”
It’s tough to point the finger at one particular problem this team has. On paper, this team is a better team at home. Personally, I don’t know how much the home crowd really affects this team. Considering the fact that the team has been struggling at home lately, it doesn’t seem that the home-court advantage will help the Spartans too much in the last few games.
Taking into account that one of the final two home games is against red-hot Michigan, the Spartans’ odds don’t look too great headed into the final games before the conference tournament.
So what is the real problem with this team? Personally, I think it’s Allen combined with overall fatigue of the team. Allen was the team leader and still is a role model for the younger players, but she doesn’t have the same spark that she did before the Northwestern game. She can’t get her shots to fall, she hasn’t been as aggressive chasing after rebounds, and she hasn’t been playing as well on the defensive side of the ball as she once was. The Spartans miss this Jenna Allen, and need her back.