Jaren Jackson Jr. is going to be a top NBA Draft pick. We had him at No. 3 overall in our last mock draft. This is one of the most purely talented players in the country, a mobile 6’11 freshman with a dependable face-up jump shot and the length to turn into a terror as a shot-blocker.
Sophomore big man Nick Ward is one of the most efficient interior scorers in the NCAA tournament. He shot 64.3 percent from the field this season. He also led all of college basketball in offensive rebound rate and drew fouls at a top-10 rate all season.
For some reason, neither player was on the floor much for Michigan State in its loss to Syracuse in the round of 32 at the NCAA tournament on Sunday.
Jackson only played 15 minutes against the Orange, while Ward played 16 minutes. Tom Izzo decided to ride with his reserves, playing Ben Carter 23 minutes and Xavier Tillman 22 minutes. It was an indefensible coaching decision and it cost the Spartans in a year they were a legitimate national championship contender.
Jackson should have been on the floor instead of Carter
Jackson wasn’t playing well against Syracuse’s zone, finishing with two points and eight rebounds on 0-of-4 shooting from the field. It doesn’t matter. He still should have been on the court over Carter and Tillman, especially to close the game.
Izzo put Carter in the middle of the zone, and he was unable to make the Syracuse defense pay with a mid-range jump shot or quick pass. He never should have been in that situation.
Carter is a sixth-year senior who averaged 0.6 points per game this season. There was no reason he needed to play a season-high in minutes in a tight NCAA tournament game, especially not when Jackson is available. Carter’s previous season-high was 19 minutes. It’s not like he was any better than Jackson in his time on the floor, either, finishing with just two points and two assists.
Meanwhile, Ward was effective in his limited minutes, scoring 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting.
This might have been MSU’s most talented team ever and it couldn’t even make the Sweet 16
Izzo has had some great teams in East Lansing, but he’s never had a team with two lottery picks. Jackson and Miles Bridges will both earn that distinction come June.
Bridges had a rough game, too, shooting 4-of-18 from the floor and finishing with 11 points. Maybe if Jackson was on the floor more in place of a limited offensive player, he wouldn’t have had to take so many attempts.
MSU needed Jackson. The Orange’s zone is scary for any young player, but Jackson has the skill set to thrive against it. Carter does not.
If Michigan State was going to go down in March, at least it could have gone down with its most talented players on the floor. Instead, Izzo’s rotations gave Syracuse a chance to pull the upset. That’s exactly what they did.