The Detroit Free Press’s Chris Solari and the Lansing State Journal’s Graham Couch share their thoughts from Mark Dantonio’s press conference.
Graham Couch and Chris Solari, Lansing State Journal
It is officially crossover season.
That means craziness on the Michigan State beat, perhaps more so than any in the country.
Take Tuesday, for instance. It began with a Mark Dantonio news conference and football player availability in East Lansing beginning at 11:30 a.m. It ended with Tom Izzo and an open basketball locker room in Indianapolis, shortly after 10 p.m. That doesn’t take into account drive and setup time in the morning and writing time at night.
Thankfully, that was only one day with extenuating circumstances: A big game against No. 1 Kansas in hoops on Tuesday, with a big game in football Saturday against No. 8 Ohio State.
So, not surprisingly, that overlap works its way into this week’s mailbag. As always, send questions via email ([email protected]), on Twitter (@chrissolari) or join our weekly chat (11 a.m. most Thursdays) at www.freep.com. I take questions there and find a few to expound upon in the Friday mailbag.
So, does Rocky take his highlight film and transfer to some place he can play next year? After all the coaches have made it clear that he is not starting, even if the starter is hurt. – Marta A. (via email)
What happens at quarterback Saturday will be interesting. I am not 100 percent convinced MSU will go with Brian Lewerke, simply because of how Mark Dantonio played the week leading up to the Spartans’ 2015 win at Ohio State.
Connor Cook hurt his shoulder against Maryland a week before that game and sat out the second half, but the injury was downplayed. Get to game day, and the word trickled out that Cook would not play and Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry would split reps. O’Connor wound up getting more and guiding MSU to an improbable 17-14 win, which was capped by Michael Geiger’s game-winning field goal as time expired.
So, because of that, I would not be surprised to see Lombardi over Lewerke on Saturday simply because of Lewerke’s shoulder injury. That said, if Lombardi, a redshirt freshman, were to pull off the win and shine against the Buckeyes’ struggling secondary, Dantonio would have a decision to make over the final two regular-season games and the bowl game.
I ascribe to the theory you don’t lose a starting job based on an injury, but there can be exceptions. But if Lombardi gets a chance, either starting or relieving Lewerke, he needs to avoid careless interceptions like the one he threw at Maryland. Trying to do too much will get you a seat on the bench.
Back to the question. Does Lombardi transfer? I think coaches see him as their QB of the future when Lewerke leaves or graduates. Lombardi comes from a family of coaches and understands waiting his turn, and he does not seem like the type of player who would go somewhere else knowing what he could have at MSU.
Having now seen the 2018-2019 basketball team in action, what do you think is a realistic expectation for Spartan fans this year? – Joe (via live chat)
Tuesday’s second half against Kansas showed there is a high ceiling, but the first half exposed the potential for problems. When Joshua Langford, Nick Ward and Cassius Winston get going, there is a chance for a special season. And when they are amiss, MSU will find it difficult to score.
Credit Kenny Goins with keeping the Spartans in the game in a frustrating and lackluster first half. Langford picked it up after halftime and started to look like the player Tom Izzo recruited, but Winston and Ward struggled most of the night. So did Xavier Tillman, who must get better production and have fewer frazzled moments because Izzo can only go three deep in the post for the most part right now.
Considering how big and deep Kansas is, MSU still was within a basket with 30 seconds left. When the Spartans can dictate the tempo, they will wear down more inferior teams. And they showed they can hang with the nation’s elite when they are playing with energy and grit. A Sweet 16 is the goal for this group, which has not escaped the first weekend of the NCAA tournament since 2015, with potential to get back to another Final Four for the first time since that year, as well.
Year after year, it seems like MSU struggles with turnovers. If it was just a year here and there, you could put it on the players, but since it is a trend it has to be linked to the constant variable: coaching. Tom Izzo is a Hall of Fame coach and deserves all the credit for building the Spartan program, but I just don’t understand why cutting down on turnovers is not more of an emphasis. … Am I missing something? – Justin K. (via email)
One of the things about pushing the tempo and running in transition like MSU does is the propensity to get sloppy with the ball. Some of that was evident Tuesday, but many of the Spartans’ turnovers came out of the half-court set.
Winston needs to not be such a “Casual Cassius” and do a better job protecting the ball out front, because getting his pocket picked will lead to breakout baskets for the opponent that swing momentum. Ward still needs to improve against double-teams, one of his major issues the past two seasons and an area he must show growth for NBA scouts. He struggled to recognize when and where Kansas was sending an extra defender.
Rebounding is one way to get more possessions, but it also is a tone-setter for toughness. And preventing second-chance baskets is important. But to think Izzo doesn’t emphasize cutting down turnovers is wrong. This team realizes it is not good enough to play laissez-faire with the ball and expect to repeat as Big Ten champions.
I feel Kenny Goins is going to take that ‘Senior Leap’ Dantonio asks of his seniors. This was evident in his production vs Kansas. Do you see this as a one off, or do you see this as sustainable given the magnitude of the Champions Classic? – @Timo_Slice (via Twitter)
Goins looks like he is confident enough to start becoming a 3-point weapon for MSU. Does that mean he will hit them like Winston? Or even Jaren Jackson Jr. did? No, but he clearly has the green light and an improved stroke.
But there is more to Goins’ outside shooting than just making 3 of 8 from behind the arc. Kansas coach Bill Self admitted to Goins after the game that the Jayhawks were comfortable letting him shoot. Those open looks will go away for other opponents now, and even more so if the senior continues to flash that range. However, even just being able to shoot them should help free up Ward and Tillman in the paint whenever they are in there with Goins.
That said, don’t expect the former walk-on to average 17 points and 11 boards all season. A reasonable expectation is 10 points and 5-8 rebounds a night if Goins remains in the starting role, which seems probable.
You said the offensive line class for MSU in 2019 looks pretty good. What about the defensive line and the pass rush? Raequan Williams and will only be there so long. The game is won in the trenches. Will there be someone to step up or are there projects you think like Shilique Calhoun? – Chris J. (via email)
Williams continues to play himself up NFL draft boards, but MSU will have plenty back next year.
Mike Panasiuk should be back for his senior season (remember, he did not redshirt so Williams has a year on him). Naquan Jones continues to impress and should slide into a starting role if Williams bypasses his final year of eligibility.
Losing Gerald Owens to graduation will cut some quality depth, but coaches like true freshmen Jacob Slade (who played against Utah State) and Dashaun Mallory as the next guys in the middle. Mufi Hill-Hunt continues to work his way back after knee surgery and DeAri Todd could play both end or tackle, so there are not a lot of spots for newcomers immediately.
There is plenty of room for edge rushers, however. MSU already has commitments from 3-star defensive ends Michael Fletcher from Flint Carman-Ainsworth and Zeeland East’s Adam Berghorst, who also will play baseball. Kenny Willekes, Jacub Panasiuk, Jack Camper and Drew Beesley all are expected to return, but the Spartans have been in dire need of high-caliber rush ends after the dismissals of Josh King and Auston Robertson.
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