Jan. 16, 2012
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist
One item in Michigan State's game plan for Michigan is being emphasized more than any other.
Yes, shot selection, limiting turnovers, taking advantage of screens, boxing out and rebounding will be important when the Spartans visit the Wolverines.
However, the way MSU performs every task - from the time the opening tip goes up to the final buzzer - Tuesday night in the Crisler Center and in the Feb. 5 rematch at the Breslin Center may have more to do with determining its fate than anything else.
"I want to win these two games, but I also know what it's going to take to win these two games," said senior captain Draymond Green. "It's going to come down to who plays with the most energy.
"It's not going to come down to who has the most talent or who's running the better things. We know what they run; they know what we run. It's going to come down to who's gonna go after the 50-50 balls and come up with those, who's going to come out with the most intensity to run a lockdown on the defensive end and get a stop when that's what it takes."
Comparative scores (i.e., A beat B, B beat C so A must be better than C) won't help anybody make sense of what's been happening in the unpredictable Big Ten so far this season, but they do lend credence to Green's assertion.
Just last week, Michigan State buried Iowa, 95-61, at home. To show just how displeased he was with his team's effort during a timeout, Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery picked up a chair and slammed it down to the court. Some 24 hours later, Michigan defeated Northwestern, 66-64, in overtime in Crisler.
On Saturday, Iowa's players confirmed their receipt of McCaffery's message by beating Michigan, 75-59, in Iowa City. A couple of hours later, Northwestern handled the Spartans, 81-74.
Although the players and coaches remained the same, something was different, and not just the location, although where the games were played also factor into the concept Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is trying to get across to the Spartans.
"I'm looking at this game as, we've got to stop a lot of things," Izzo said Monday. "But to stop things, you usually game plan on how you're gonna cover ball screens or how you're gonna guard the three, or how you're gonna guard the post.
"Looking at this league right, now I'm figuring we just have to keep our energy up."
Izzo couldn't fault MSU's effort in the Northwestern defeat, which he called "a decent loss," even though it snapped a 15-game win streak.
However, he also said it underscored the fact that had the Spartans been able to ramp up their intensity a notch or two, the outcome might have been different. It's even more important to overcompensate in the energy department on the road where the home team is bound to get a boost from its crowd.
"Sometimes you lose because you don't practice good, you're fat and sassy, you're not focused in," Izzo said. "You know what? That wasn't even close to being an issue. The team's a lot better than you? That wasn't close to being the issue.
"What I tried to harp on after that loss is, a little thing like (their) three before the half after not getting a rebound so they get it, is gonna make a difference. A little thing like knocking three balls loose when they had the rebound and they end up scoring. That's what it's all about.
"You better be ready to play your best every game and very seldom are you going to beat any Big Ten teams if you're just playing good or average, and you're not beating hardly any if you're playing that way on the road."
Izzo probably wouldn't have to bring any of this up before playing MSU's archrival. After all, the Wolverines ended a four-game Spartans series win streak with back-to-back victories last season for the first time since 1997. But, with so many first-year Spartans new to the rivalry, Izzo and Green aren't about to take any chances.
Furthermore, with No. 9 MSU and No. 20 U-M in a virtual dead heat with regard to the conference race, and with the potential of national rankings being flipped, it's hard to recall a game in this rivalry that came down to a bigger matchup of wills.
Growing up, Green enjoyed watching the Spartans beat Michigan eight straight times and before last season had a hand in MSU's 18 victories in 21 meetings.
The desire to beat the Wolverines hasn't changed, but the dynamic is certainly different than it was when the Spartans dominated the series. The loss of one individual battle for a loose ball, or a rebound, could spell disaster.
"For me personally, I'm looking forward to having my team ready to do those things because I don't want to lose to Michigan," Green said. "I never want to lose to Michigan. And when I leave here, I never want to see Michigan State lose to Michigan. It's not going to change the rest of my life, and this year is where it starts.
"It's very personal for me, I'm not going to lie about it. I want to win these two games. I also know what it's going to take to win these two games."