Spartans Basketball Notebook

At 10-8 and with 11 games remaining in the season, MSU may be on the outside looking in for an NCAA tournament bid, but that's not on the mind of Izzo and his staff. Check out Spartans' analyst Ryan Wallace's in-depth commentary on the Michigan State basketball team!

(East Lansing) – Despite losing to intrastate rival Michigan on Sunday the play of MSU sophomore guard Chris Hill was not overlooked. On Monday, Hill was named Big Ten Player of the Week.

For second straight time last week, Hill scored 20 points off the bench to lead the Spartans in scoring.

Hill not only provided the hot-hand offensively for the Spartans, but he hit the boards, averaging 6 rebounds a game, and dished out the ball, earning 3 assists a game.

Against Penn State on Wednesday he shot 64 percent from the field and knocked down three 3’s. Against the Wolverines he connected on four 3’s and picked up 5 rebounds.

For Hill this is the first time in his career that he has received the honor, and he is the first Spartan to earn the honor this season.

Not so free throws

Coming into this season MSU head coach Tom Izzo believed his team would be a great free throw shooting team. And he had every reason to believe so.

Last season the Spartans shot 77.1 percent from the free throw line, which ranked them fifth nationally.

However, things have not gone according to plan. Despite going to the line almost six more times this season, the Spartans are shooting 72.2 percent and that has befuddled Izzo.

"The day I get out of this profession I will never understand that stat this year," Izzo said. "From a team I thought would lead the nation in free throw shooting, and just have not. There’s no rhyme or reason, but we got to get it fixed.

I am putting a lot on the free throw, because number one I think we are very good at it. Number two you don’t lose your skill to be a good free throw shooter and number three they’re just like you say free points, so I don’t want to panic.

A case of severe senioritis

Senior forward Adam Ballinger’s decline in minutes and productivity has been a mystery. Izzo said he never thought that position would so problematic.

He said Ballinger’s drop off has been one of the most surprising things to ever happen to him in his eight years at MSU, calling "it’s almost illegal what has happened."

Izzo said he will not give up on him, but the senior has to put together better practices to earn his minutes.

"Unfortunately I think we’ve given him a chance and we’re still going to give a chance, but he’s going to have earn more of it now in practice," he said. "And when he doesn’t practice well it’s going to be hard on me to have the confidence to play him."

Izzo said he hasn’t practice like he did last year or even for the first two and a half weeks of this season.

"I think what happens, with seniors, there’s always a reality that this is the end and everyone handles it differently," he said. "Sometimes you know when you have big dreams of what you want to accomplish your senior year and things go wrong early I think he’s put a lot of pressure on himself, because he hasn’t practiced the same and he’s always practiced well. But it’s not been a lack of effort; it’s been a lack of productivity.

Season Outlook

At 10-8 and with 11 games remaining in the season, MSU may be on the outside looking in for an NCAA tournament bid, but that’s not on the mind of Izzo and his staff.

"To be honest with you, that is the least of my worries right now," he said. "If we don’t get this team better and if we don’t play a little better and if we don’t start winning some games, almost more than playing better, that really kind of takes care of itself."

MSU has a tough four-game stretch coming up with Indiana and Illinois coming to East Lansing and then traveling to Indiana and to Wisconsin.

Izzo said right now every game is make-or-break, but he believes his team still has potential to turn it around.

"It’s sure not going to get any easier, we’ve got to some how to find a way to win some of these close games. I still think the good news is this team hasn’t quit," he said. "I mean we’re right in games down the stretch, the bad news is it’s repeating itself and maybe now we’re finding ways to lose some of these games.

Just missed it

On Monday, Izzo explained how the little things have been piling up, causing his team to struggle this season.

Whether it’s missing open shots or free throws, Izzo explained how minute things, such as receiving and distributing a pass in the perfect spot, can make all the difference in the world.

He referred to a play during the Michigan when Hill came off a double screen and received a pass from sophomore forward Alan Anderson that was a little late and a little behind him. Hill missed the shot and Izzo said it’s a part of the game that sometimes gets overlooked.

Izzo said part of the reason his team has struggled in this facet of the game is because they are lacking that one true point guard.

"Sometimes it’s how the ball is distributed and when it’s distributed and that’s why the best point guards that don’t shoot a lot get little credit, but they do so many things that people don’t see," Izzo said.

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