Here is a pretty telling line put up by the Michigan State guards in their recent loss to Texas. A game that I'd hoped would give some good insight into Tom Izzo's squad.
Kalin Lucas had zero assists and six turnovers.
Chris Allen had zero assists and five turnovers.
Korie Lucious had two assists and four turnovers.
Durrell Summers had one assist and two turnovers.
Not a single player among the back court, that is supposedly Michigan State's strength, managed to crack an assist to turnover ratio of one. In fact, the lowly .5 put up by Lucious and Summers looks downright sublime next to the ridiculous goose eggs put up by Lucas and Allen.
With four assists, Draymond Green put up more than the entire backcourt, which, as you can imagine, led to problems for the Spartans in their test vs. No. 2 Texas.
MSU finished the game with only 12 assists, gave up 22 turnovers, got out-rebounded, and out-shot in a game that was somehow competitive until the last five minutes.
So, I guess this game did give some insight into the club, though not exactly the kind I was looking for.
For all we might want to anoint Kalen Lucas as the next Mateen Cleaves, the truth of the matter is that he's not even close, and for all we'd like to think we can "small ball" elite teams with our superior guard play, the truth is their play has not been particularly impressive so far.
When you shoot poorly and can't protect the ball, "small ball" doesn't quite have the same type of success.
Though the Texas perimeter defense deserves a lot of credit for pressuring the MSU backcourt, the fact remains that they are capable of being pressured.
Just like they were pressured during the Carolina game.
Texas showed absolutely no respect for Lucious or Lucas, often picking them up immediately after half court, pressing them relentlessly, and daring them to drive the ball to the basket.
And yet State couldn't get by them, at least not with any consistency.
Even worse, they continually turned the ball over when being guarded by forwards—albeit athletic ones—out on the perimeter.
This led to a compete lack of coherence in their half court sets, as a pressured guard who is too short to throw over anyone and isn't capable of getting by them, is going to have trouble initiating the offense.
At times, State was running the weave a good five feet behind the three point line; apparently unable to get any closer and devoid of any inside game that might have loosened up some of the pressure.
Through it all, State competed and scrapped, but in the end they were simply outmatched.
Outmatched mostly by Damion James who put up 23 points and 13 boards, following up his monster 25 and 15 performance against Carolina, propelling Texas to another win over a top ten team.
But outmatched by Dogus Balbay and Gary Johnson as well, who had six takeaways between them and added an energy that Michigan State could not rise to.
So whereas in the North Carolina loss it was most evident that the Spartans are sorely missing the loss of Goran Suton—an altruism that also held up against the Longhorns—the Texas loss also left serious doubts about the quality of the backcourt.
The Spartans have not shot the the ball particularly well all year, they turn it over, and don't generate a whole lot of assists, which are all things that great guard play is supposed to provide.
And we're far enough into the season to legitimately ask ourselves if this current team is the type that we would expect to make a run in the tournament.
From my perspective, they are absolutely an incomplete team.
The most obvious aspect of this is their looming crater at the center position; but we knew all about that coming into the year.
What has been most surprising is the way the Spartans are being handled in the backcourt, which is a much larger problem if they have any desires to win an NCAA championship.
I know it's early in the season, and I know they still have some growing to do, but can a 3-17 assist to turnover ratio really be fixed? These are all upper classmen running these lines, not freshmen.
I remain fervently behind Sparty, and can see the glimpse of potential; but they have a long journey in front of them this year, not nearly the joyride we would expect from a No. 2 preseason ranking.
Is that a surprise? Not to those of us that think pre-season rankings are pointless.
But one wonders how the guard play could have regressed so much from one year to the next.
Who are these Spartans? At this point I'm not sure, though undoubtedly look forward to a season of finding out.