1. Michigan State’s offensive struggles are worrisome, but fixable. They have several players who can put the ball on the floor and create on a consistent basis. Denzel Valentine is one of those players, and he was very careless with the ball today.
Valentine has been one of the best utility players in the country in recent years, but the Spartans need him to play a bigger role this season. He was unable to play that role effectively against Duke, but he has all the ability needed to do so moving forward. Travis Trice is one of the most dangerous off the bounce players in the country, but too often he gave the ball up in the face of pressure and deferred to others. Trice’s ability to get himself shots anywhere between the rim and the three-point line, as well as his ability to get his teammates good shots (especially teammates like Schilling and Costello who can’t create for themselves), is going to be one of the most important aspects of Michigan State’s offense this season.
Lourawls Nairn Jr. is playing too fast, but the freshman guard will become his teammates’ best friend once he figures out how to channel his talents. He is a gifted dribbler and passer, and even if he doesn’t become a more threatening scorer he should become a key creator for Tom Izzo’s team. There was too much standing and watching on offense, and too much timid play in response to defensive pressure, for a team with this much dribbling ability.
2. Michigan State’s thin frontline will almost certainly prevent them from making another run at 30 wins. Branden Dawson is really a swingman and doesn’t provide a ton of help in the post. Gavin Schilling and Matt Costello offer little in offense other than using their bodies to set screens and to finish open dump-off passes.
They struggled on defense against Jahlil Okafor tonight, but they probably won’t face another big man of that caliber all season. They aren’t going to be elite rim protectors against anyone, however, so there will be a ton of pressure on Michigan State’s perimeter defenders.
The Spartans are going to be hamstrung by the lack of talent and depth in the frontcourt all season (as shown by there need to play Colby Wollenman tonight), and even though they are missing players, it may give their season a lower ceiling than fans in East Lansing are accustomed to.
3. Even with the heavy final deficit, and the problems on both ends of the floor, Michigan State would have been right in this game if they had hit some open threes. They shot poorly from deep across the board, with only Bryn Forbes making more than one shot from deep (he shot a respectable 3-8). The team finished 5-20, and that isn’t going to do it against a team as good as Duke.
Michigan State looked scared against Duke’s half court pressure at times, but there were still plenty of good moments on offense. Many of them unfortunately ended in missed jumpers, but even if this team continues to struggle a bit in the non-conference, there are definitely signs that this team could overcome its frontcourt issues, and become a dangerous basketball team by February or March like so many Tom Izzo teams in the past.