It’s hard to envision this Michigan State team being listed as the favorite against any decent opponent. And yet, here we are again. Oddsmakers are giving the Spartans too much credit for Tuesday night's matchup against Penn State as MSU opened as 2-point favorites.
At this point, MSU’s respect on the sports betting boards is due to name recognition and some false hope that this flailing group can turn it around. Even in Saturday’s 66-56 win over Nebraska, MSU (9-7, 3-7 Big Ten) put forth an ugly showing.
The Spartans turned it over 22 times, which was five more than a Nebraska group that was playing its first game in 27 days. Somehow, still, MSU managed to be the sloppier team.
The only positive take from MSU’s return to play after suspending its season due to positive COVID-19 cases was the 84-78 loss at No. 8 Iowa on Feb. 2. MSU shot well, connecting on 12 of 29 3-pointers and had a chance to tie the game with 24 seconds left. But Joshua Langford’s mid-range jumper was off the mark and Iowa escaped with the win. At least MSU bettors could take solace in the fact the Spartans covered the spread for just the fourth time in 16 games this season. That’s something!
The game against Iowa was the first for MSU since Michigan launched mobile sports betting and online casino gaming within the state.
However, with Iowa losing four of its last five games, even that performance by MSU has lost its luster. The reality is MSU is on the verge of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 22 years. MSU has lost four of its last five games and sits at No. 91 in the NET Rankings, which is the metric that helps decide the teams that earn at-large bids for the NCAA tournament.
There’s plenty of blame to go around for MSU’s current predicament. The lack of a true point guard shows in MSU’s Big Ten-leading 14.1 turnovers per game. Aaron Henry, who is a key part of MSU’s backcourt, is third in the conference with three miscues a game and had a few downright puzzling decisions against Nebraska.
Rocket Watts has been inconsistent and has lacked any rhythm as head coach Tom Izzo has alternated between Watts running the point and playing as a wing. Foster Loyer simply lacks the athleticism and explosiveness to score anything besides open 3s or free throws, and A.J. Hoggard has just been “meh” at the point guard spot.
Forward transfer Joey Hauser has also been inconsistent. He had no points and fouled out in the win against Nebraska. Hauser was projected to be one of the top forwards in the league this season and has been OK, averaging 10.5 points per game. But the Spartans realistically need him to perform as one of the premier inside-out threats, and Hauser hasn’t regularly performed to that level.
So, with all of these issues that have plagued the Spartans, can they turn it around?
The Spartans have their opportunities, starting tonight with a Penn State team with a NET ranking of 28. The Nittany Lions have impressive wins over Wisconsin, Rutgers, Virginia Tech and they just defeated Maryland.
Penn State (7-8, 4-7) is the top offensive rebounding team in the Big Ten and is second in turnovers forced per defensive possession and steals per possession, which doesn’t bode well for a turnover-prone MSU group.
This week may determine MSU’s chances of getting an at-large NCAA bid. Following the matchup with Penn State, the Spartans host Iowa on Saturday.