Observations: Michigan State’s depth making lineup decisions difficult

Michigan State’s depth is staggering and that’s what will make things hard when Tom Izzo decides that he’s got to cut his rotation.

The Spartans currently have 13 different players averaging 7.5 minutes or more and while that’s great in terms of the options that may inhibit this team&’s overall chemistry and flow.

Michigan State has had key players injured at different times this season and started the year with Gavin Schilling (turf toe) out of the lineup and then Denzel Valentine missed games with a knee injury. Those injuries have allowed other players to step forward and given certain guys confidence who maybe thought they weren’t going to be part of this team’s rotation.

Izzo is going to be committed to Valentine, Schilling, Matt Costello, Bryn Forbes, Tum Tum Nairn, and Eron Harris as his top six, but beyond that is a question.

The soon to be Hall-of-Famer loves freshmen Matt McQuaid and Deyonta Davis as well as Javon Bess and Marvin Clark, who also missed time early due to a foot injury.

But how many guys can this team play as it’s hoping to build towards winning a Big Ten title and earning a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament?

This is a major storyline to watch moving forward.

Iowa State is at an early crossroads: Steve Prohm knew entering this season that he’d endure more pressure this season than any other coach in college basketball and, if it’s possible, that level of pressure has escalated.

The Cyclones fell to 12-4 overall and 1-3 in Big 12 play following Tuesday’s overtime loss at Texas and their upcoming schedule isn’t exactly loaded up with cupcakes.

Iowa State next travels to the “Octagon of Doom” on Saturday to face underrated Kansas State and the returns home next Monday to face Oklahoma at Hilton Coliseum. After that, the Cyclones travel to pesky TCU, host Kansas, and then travel to Texas A&M — maybe the best team in the SEC — on Jan. 30.

This program had visions at the beginning of this season of making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament and competing for a berth in the Final Four.

Right now, getting back to .500 in conference play is going to be a big enough chore in its own right.

Wednesday’s game between UCLA and USC has a “big time” feel: It’s been a long time since people in Southern California have heard that.

The Bruins have dominated the Trojans since Steve Alford and Andy Enfield took their respective posts in 2013 with UCLA beating USC in all five meetings by an average of 19.6 points.

Wednesday’s game though has a different feel because of the way the Trojans have started this season.

USC is 14-3 overall and 3-1 in the Pac-12 heading into this matchup at Pauley Pavilion and the Trojans would likely be undefeated in conference play if they hadn’t lost Julian Jacobs to an ankle injury against Washington on Jan. 3.

Is this team ready to start dealing with expectations?

We’ll find out Wednesday.

UCLA is 11-6 overall and 2-2 in Pac-12 play, but already has beaten Kentucky and won at Gonzaga.

Tom Izzo College basketball michigan state (USATSI)
Tom Izzo is still trying to figure out what his best rotation will be for the home stretch of the season. (USATSI)

This and that

  • LSU’s Ben Simmons is averaging 26.0 points, 13.7 rebounds, and 3.7 assists while shooting 63.0 percent from the field in his first three SEC games. Simmons has also gotten to the free throw line 41 times during that span. This kid became appointment television the minute he stepped foot on the Tigers’ campus.
  • Indiana is giving up an average of 64.8 points in its first four Big Ten games. The Hoosiers gave up an average of 70.0 points in the first 13 games they played this season. Tom Crean’s team is 14-3 overall and clearly getting better defensively.
  • One interesting note surrounding SMU’s 15-0 start? The Mustangs’ two most productive big men are Ben Moore (13.1 points, 8.1 rebounds) and Jordan Tolbert (12.6 points, 9.7 rebounds) — not Markus Kennedy (8.5 points, 4.8 rebounds). Larry Brown’s team plays at East Carolina on Wednesday.
  • Injuries are part of college basketball, but it’s important to remember that Arizona is now without its top two freshmen — Ray Smith (ACL, done for year) and Allonzo Trier (broken hand). Trier is expected to return at some point in February, but it’s a lot to ask of any team to move on without two players who were expected to be valuable offensive contributors on the wing.
  • VCU’s Melvin Johnson has already made 62 three-point shots this season — he made 86 during all of last year. The 6-foot-4 senior is averaging 18.8 points while shooting 43.6 percent from the field and 45.6 percent from long distance. The Rams have won six straight games and host Fordham Wednesday in Richmond.
  • Oregon’s greatest strength may be its defensive potential. The Ducks can regularly put four players on the floor that stand between 6-6 and 6-10 and that allows them to devastate teams with their length. Oregon out rebounded Stanford by 16 in Sunday’s 71-58 win.
  • Clemson has been one of the ACC’s biggest surprises, but tough times remain ahead. Brad Brownell’s squad is 3-1 in league play with wins over both Syracuse and Louisville, but the Tigers next host Duke and Miami back-to-back before traveling to Virginia. Yikes.
  • Iowa is getting real mileage out of sophomore Dom Uhl. The 6-foot-8 sophomore is shooting 14-of-29 from three-point range this season while averaging 7.3 points and 4.3 rebounds. Uhl had 10 points and eight rebounds in last week’s win against Nebraska and have allowed Fran McCaffery to stretch the Hawkeyes’ rotation. Iowa is at Michigan State on Thursday.
  • St. Bonaventure’s back court of Jaylen Adams and Marcus Posley is averaging a combined 35.7 points, 8.6 assists, and 7.4 rebounds. Mark Schmidt’s team is off to a 3-0 start in Atlantic 10 play and hosts Rhode Island on Wednesday in Olean.
  • What’s the biggest difference in Kelvin Sampson now as a head coach compared to when his time ended at Indiana? Find out here on this week’s edition of the College Hoops Today podcast.


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