March 21, 2012
By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist
PHOENIX - Where's Tom Davis when you need him?
From 1986-99, Michigan State could always count on a difficult time preparing for and playing the Davis-coached Iowa Hawkeyes, with their full-court trapping defense, twice a year.
Such an encounter this season would have come in handy for the Spartans as they ready themselves to play Louisville in the West Regional semifinals Thursday night at US Airways Center.
Michigan State has been practicing five against six or seven in an effort to get accustomed to advancing the ball against coach Rick Pitino's pressure defense, which re-forms as a hybrid man-to-man zone in the halfcourt.
Had MSU returned soon enough after playing Sunday in Columbus, and was in the Friday-Sunday regional format instead of Thursday-Saturday, coach Tom Izzo said he would have pulled in a few of coach Mark Dantonio's defensive backs and wide receivers to simulate Louisville's press.
Instead, he has relied on the scout team made up primarily of walk-ons and which he has dubbed the "Iron Mountain 5."
Sophomore point guard Keith Appling will bear the brunt MSU's ball-handling responsibilities against Louisville's press.
"We feel like if we can break the press against six people, we can do it against five," Appling said. "That's one coach's tactics he used to help us out. With one extra player out there it's frustrating, but at the end of the day it helps us."
Once the ball gets over the midcourt stripe, the "Iron Mountain 5 Plus" would drop into a 3-3 zone, Appling said. But that causes recognition problems.
"And those guys are not quite as athletic," Izzo said. "The way (the Cardinals) press, there are reads you've got to have and run-and-jumps that are harder to do than a normal zone press. They kind of play the zone-man. It's a little different. I call it a `U-pick-'em.' So it's hard to put six guys out there because you have to be able to read things.
"You see a lot of things on film, but what you can't see is athleticism or chaos, and Rick's teams cause a lot of chaos, and they're very, very good at it."
The key will be "not turning the ball over and getting it across the half line as fast as we can," Appling said. "They like to force you to a side and get you to turn your back, and then another man jumps in to create the trap.
"We're going to try to keep the ball in the middle of the floor, and advance it. We just have to run our zone offense and hopefully we'll get some easy baskets. It's going to be hard to call the play in the halfcourt because you don't know if they're in the man(-to-man) or in the zone. We just have to keep our eyes open and make plays."