March 21, 2013
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - There's a hotel housekeeper in suburban Detroit who's lucky to have Michigan State center Derrick Nix on her room list.
Nix has a problem with leaving a mess behind before playing a game, so he made sure he and roommate Matt Costello tidied up before playing their NCAA Tournament opener against Valparaiso Thursday.
"It was real spotless," Nix said after recording his fifth career double-double in the 65-54 victory over the Crusaders at The Palace. "I'm a superstitious guy, so once I get to the hotel, I lay all my game stuff out the first night.
"In tournament time, I call the people and make sure they clean the room when we leave for the walk-through in the lobby. That's just how I am. I rubbed off on Costello, so now when he gets in there he lays all his stuff out. We make sure our bathroom's clean, we make our beds and throw away all our trash."
The rest of Nix's teammates may want to follow suit before the Spartans play Memphis on Saturday.
Nix made 10 of 17 shots from the field and 3 of 5 free throws for 23 points and his 15 rebounds were a career-high and equaled MSU's season-high established by Adreian Payne vs. Ohio State on Feb. 24.
Costello, a freshman forward, missed both of his shots and had only one rebound, but his second-half blocked shot evoked the biggest cheer of the game from the crowd announced at 18,863.
The Spartans are 10-3 when Nix scores in double figures and cleans his room.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo ordered the players to leave their cell phones behind to discourage them from texting and tweeting when they should be focusing on the task at hand. However, an interesting unintended benefit has been taking place on the team bus while en route to various destinations.
"For some reason, I said the other day when we go out to eat we aren't taking the phones, when we go here we aren't taking the phones," Izzo said. "So we went to practice and I tapped my assistant and I said, `You want to hear something crazy, listen.'
"And it was like, no insult intended, a beauty parlor where everybody had their hair dryers on and were yapping, yapping, yapping. I was amazed, and it was enjoyable and that's going to still be my crusade."
Point guard Keith Appling limped noticeably during the game, but it didn't stop him from scoring 15 points on 6-for-12 shooting. Izzo said he's somewhat concerned about it.
"They say it's tendinitis so it's nothing else, but he was sore and he did not look the same the second half," Izzo said. "But after the game, he said he'd be OK. He's got to get a little treatment and I think he'll be OK."
Izzo didn't know how he'd like playing in the early session with a 12:15 p.m. tipoff, but he actually liked it. After the game, he personally scouted Memphis, which advanced by holding off Saint Mary's, 54-52.
"Part of me would rather play Friday-Sunday because I like the Thursday to watch games and kind of get your team to notice that hey, there was a big upset there," Izzo said. "But those nights..., my first one was almost a 10 o'clock game against Eastern Michigan. There was almost no one left in the stands except my wife and parents and we got back to the hotel at like 1:30 in the morning.
"This was a little better. I'll get to go back and study film without using toothpicks (to keep my eyes open). It'll be kind of good."
Sophomore forward Branden Dawson looked more like his old self than at most times since he injured his knee a year ago, and he scored seven points, including two a dazzling reverse spin move to the basket, had six rebounds and three assists.
The Spartans are a different team when he's that active.
"Branden Dawson is one of the biggest keys because he has a ceiling he has not touched yet," Izzo said. "It's a stupid little spin move and things like that, but it showed me that his balance is coming back and that's where he's really been struggling. He went up and got a couple rebounds, he made some great passes and had no turnovers.
"I just thought he felt more comfortable, and he had as much energy as anybody in those huddles, and boy, I really enjoyed that."
Izzo may be coaching against his biggest fan, Memphis coach Josh Pastner, on Saturday.
Pastner cited Izzo as an authority on college basketball a couple of times during Wednesday's press conference. After the Tigers defeated Saint Mary's, Pastner said, "I have no idea why Tom Izzo isn't in the hall of fame right now. He's one of the great coaches and one of the great guys of all time."