Why Can’t We Have Nice Things?
Well, there went three hours I'll never get back.
Is it really too much to ask, after a soul-crushing football season beset by humbling losses and grievous off-the-field headlines, for Michigan State basketball to turn in a ho-hum, banal 20- or 30-point win over a completely overmatched mid-major visitor in the season opener?
Apparently, yes. Like having a football coach who doesn't sexually harass a sexual assault survivor and victim advocate, or having a Nazi-free stadium scoreboard, having a Top 5 college basketball team that takes care of business at home against a collection of Europe-bound ballers and YMCA-league stalwarts is just too much to ask for Michigan State.
MSU, ranked No. 4 in the nation thanks to returning much of last year's Sweet 16 roster and adding one of the very best recruiting classes in the history of the program, lost at home to James Madison in overtime on Monday night, 79-76.
It was the first-ever November loss at Breslin Center for Tom Izzo, who's in his 29th season at the helm of Spartan basketball, dropping his home record in the eleventh month to 74-1. Hell, it was State’s first-ever November loss at Breslin Center period. Overall, MSU hadn't lost a November game in East Lansing since a young David Robinson led Navy to a 91-90 overtime win at Jenison Fieldhouse on Nov. 29, 1986.
The Spartans are the first AP Top 5 team in 18 years to lose its season opener to an unranked opponent. The last to author such ignominy? Michigan State in 2005.
It's easily the most humiliating moment for MSU basketball under Izzo. Some might point to the loss to Middle Tennessee State in the opening round of the 2016 NCAA tournament, when the Spartans became just the eighth No. 2 seed ever to lose to a 15 seed, but at least that happened on a neutral site in the postseason. Monday's embarrassment came in the season opener in front of a packed Breslin Center crowd, amid some of the highest expectations for the program in years, and, as we noted above, made history — for all the wrong reasons.
Not A Fluke
James Madison raced out to a quick lead and was ahead by 13 by the midway point of the first half. Overall, the Dukes, an appropriately named basketball team given how they routinely kicked MSU squarely in the groin, led for more than 28 minutes of game play.
Michigan State went a mortifying 1-for-20 from beyond the arc, which is obviously awful, but it's so much worse when you consider that the Spartans were the best 3-point-shooting Power Five team in the country a season ago at 39.3 percent. Not to mention they weren't exactly playing the '75-'76 Indiana Hoosiers Monday night, either.
No offense to James Madison. The Dukes are picked to win the Sun Belt and make the NCAA tournament this season following last year's 22-win campaign that ended with a loss in their conference tournament championship game. But just two of their 11 guys who played Monday night had Power Five offers (transfers T.J. Bickerstaff, from Boston College, and Quincy Allen, Colorado). That didn't stop them from setting the tone right against MSU right out of the gate, though. It was evident from the outset that James Madison wasn't intimidated and possessed the mental and testicular fortitude required to pull of the Herculean upset. JMU legitimately controlled the game from start to finish.
But there's no excuse for a roster as talent-rich as MSU's, with a Hall of Fame head coach, to lose to that kind of a mid-major opponent anywhere, let alone at home before a raucous crowd eager for a national championship run.
MSU Still Too Dependent On Walker
The focus will be on State's horrific 3-point shooting — their starters went 0-for-17 from beyond the arc — or the god-awful 23-for-37 mark they put together at the foul stripe. But the truth is Michigan State lost this game because they still suffer from the same Achilles' heel that plagued them a season ago — Tyson Walker is the only Spartan who can create his own shot in crunch time.
Despite an uncharacteristically bad 11-for-17 performance at the line, Walker was excellent, especially after halftime. He put up 35 points in 39 minutes on 12-for-26 shooting from field, taking over down the stretch. From the midway point of the second half, Walker scored 21 of MSU's final 28 points. Just two other Spartans scored over the last 15 minutes of game time — freshman Coen Carr, 5 points, and senior A.J. Hoggard, 2 points. Carr was the only Spartan other than Walker to make a field goal in that same span.
The Spartans are going to face a lot of teams this season who have more length, bodies, and talent to throw at Walker than lowly James Madison. For all the bells and whistles this loaded MSU roster has this season, Monday night was an inauspicious start, to say the least.
What Does Malik Hall Even Do Here?
Malik Hall, who elected to return to Michigan State for his fifth season, picked up where he left off last season, turning in a mystifyingly impotent performance. Hall scored 4 points on 2-for-12 shooting, grabbed 6 boards, added 2 assists, and turned the ball over once in 24 minutes.
Hall was bad — really bad — down the stretch against James Madison. Between a blown two-foot bunny and his losing a gotta-have-it rebound off a missed free throw late, Hall wilted in the biggest moments, just like he did in MSU's Sweet 16 overtime loss to Kansas State in March.
Does anyone know what exactly Hall does anymore? The guy has dealt with a ton of injuries, and that's not his fault. But he's never quite regained the form he showed his freshman year in 2019, such as when his 17-point performance almost-singlehandedly carried State to a road win over Seton Hall.
Hopefully for State these heralded freshmen grow up quick and take minutes away from Hall and the other upperclassmen who disappeared late against James Madison. They won't have a ton of time to do it, though.
MSU brings Southern Indiana in to Breslin Center on Thursday, then they have just four days until they take on No. 2 Duke at the Champions Classic in Chicago on Tuesday, Nov. 14. Great. Can't wait.
It won't get any easier after that, either. The Spartans have a short turnaround before they face Butler, then No. 12 Arizona. And, before you know it, they'll be playing legitimate competition night-in and night-out. Conference play begins in the first week of December because, ya know, the Big Ten sold its soul to FOX, CBS, and NBC. There's also a non-conference game against No. 20 Baylor in Detroit in mid-December during a three-week pause in Big Ten play. Why? Because nothing makes sense in college sports anymore, that's why.
I promised myself I wouldn't get upset about college basketball in November, but here we are.
At least Michigan football is a total shitshow.