OPINION: Front Court Play Hurting MSU

MSU needs to shake itself out of the doldrums by going to a three guard lineup and by inserting both freshman Chris Allen and junior Marquise Gray into the starting lineup.

EAST LANSING - Despite getting solid games from their two best defensive players, (Travis Walton, eight points, four assists and Drew Naymick seven points, two blocks), Michigan State fell out of contention early and never really threatened in its 80-61 loss to Indiana.

Instead, the Spartans were plagued again by an inexplicable 19 turnovers which moved an exasperated Coach Tom Izzo to tersely comment, "I'm disgusted, I'm embarrassed, and I'll take any questions."

The Spartans jumped out to an early 15-4 lead behind some strong rebounding by new starter Marquise Gray and some early positive action by small forward Raymar Morgan who grabbed two boards and slammed dunked on a nice entry feed from Naymick.

But then the Spartans front court disappeared. Morgan never made another field goal and compounded the issue by turning the ball over three times. Suton went scoreless in sixteen minutes off the bench and chipped in with four turnovers.

Coach Izzo did everything he could to try to calm MSU's big men, but nothing worked and with Gray also joining the turnover parade with two, he had no where to turn.

Freshmen Chris Allen (ten points, three rebounds) and Durrell Summers (five points, two rebounds) combined for fifteen points off the MSU bench and joined starter Kalin Lucas (seven points, three assist) in trying to pick the Spartans up off the mat following an IU 16-3 which erased the Spartans early 15-4 edge, but their effort was to no avail.

The Hooisers improved on an eight point halftime lead behind the magnificient play of freshman shooting guard Eric Gordon (game high 28 points), building it to as much as seventeen, before Allen began the comeback with a three-pointer followed by four points by Drew Neitzel, a Walton lay-up and a three-pointer by Summers.

But it continues to be the lack of contribution from the Spartans front court that is hurting their ability to compete with the elite in the conference.

The play of Morgan is particularly puzzling. One of the most talented players in the conference, Morgan has had trouble with his ball skills of late and Izzo can only hope that he shakes out of it.

Suton's inconsistency has cost him his starting job, as Marquise Gray, despite his limitations, will seemingly stay as the starter.

So what does Izzo do at this point to try to steady the frontcourt play? He turned to seldom used Idong Ibok, who went scoreless in five minutes, but Summers appeared to get more comfortable as his minutes extended late in the game even in the hostile atmosphere and Allen was MSU most productive offensive player off the bench.

Here's a suggestion: Go to a three guard lineup with Allen, Neitzel and Lucas, with Gray and Naymick in the front court. Allen is big enough to pickup the oppositions small forward, giving the Spartans an opportunity to make Morgan and Suton earn minutes with quality showings.

We would love to see seldom-used Isaiah Dahlman also get at least a little playing time. While Dahlman hasn't shown much in a Spartans uniform, why not give him a shot to see if he can play some turnover-free minutes down the stretch.

It would be nice to see MSU be able to stablize their rotation prior to the upcoming Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. This team has too much talent to be playing as tenatively and as erratically as they have.

MSU needs a dose of veteran leadership to calm this team at key moments and a little more use of basketball smarts to avoid the double-digit turnover performances that have plagued them.

A switch to the small lineup GSN advocates couldn't hurt.


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