Nov. 4, 2011
EAST LANSING, Mich. -
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online columnist
Michigan State has proved itself more than capable against Division II basketball competition. What kind of barometer the Spartans' 80-58 victory over Hillsdale in the Breslin Center Friday night is with regard to next Friday's season-opener against No. 1 North Carolina on an aircraft carrier in San Diego is anybody's guess.
So far, MSU's body of work, which includes an 85-58 win against Ferris State, is barely a rough sketch when what coach Tom Izzo really would like before playing the Tar Heels is the Sistine Chapel and two defensive-minded monks.
"Carolina is really good," Izzo said. "When somebody tells me they've give got five starters that are first-round picks, I think two of their subs are better than some of their starters.
"At the same time, we're going (to San Diego) to win a game and that's the way it will be. I have no idea how that game will turn out because I don't know where we are yet, but I've got a feeling we're going to play our tail off, and if we do, the wind's blowing for them too."
From a tactical standpoint, MSU is in for upgrades on offense and defense, and maybe even a practice or two on an outside court, weather permitting, in the coming week.
"I'm still experimenting a little bit and trying to get some guys some minutes," Izzo said. "We don't have a lot in. You didn't see us run a lot - I'm trying to camouflage it. We're putting in some more things this week that I will think will help us a little bit more."
From a personnel standpoint, the young Spartans' A-game is pretty impressive. Unfortunately, at this point, inconsistency and uneven play is their Achilles' heel.
Sophomore Keith Appling's transition from shooting guard to point guard hit a rough spot offensively against the Chargers, but he excelled defensively. He scored just seven points on 3-for-9 shooting from the floor, went 1-for-4 from the foul line and had three turnovers against two assists.
"I think I was just thinking a little too much and trying to hit the home run instead of making simple plays," Appling said.
Learning a new position shouldn't have a lasting effect on Appling's trademark scoring touch.
"I think he had good shots at both the point and the wing," Izzo said. "I just think he struggled a bit, but it wasn't because he's playing the point and the wing. I have a lot of respect for a guy who can struggle but not let it hurt his defense, especially as an offensive player.
"He's incredibly tough physically and mentally, so I'm not worried about him."
At times, while scoring 10 points, pulling down a game-high 10 rebounds and blocking four shots, sophomore center Adreian Payne put on a clinic with some beastly moves in the low post. At other times, he was a pain in Izzo's neck.
"He is a live wire, as we know, and everybody understands he has phenomenal athletic ability," Izzo said. "He made one power move late in the game that I thought was really a strong tough move that he wouldn't have made last year.
"The only thing I was disappointed with was when he got tired, he went from here to here and he can't do that. I mean, he can have a little drop, but it can't be off the chart. That was the only negative."
Said Payne, "I feel stronger and more confident in my moves. It's just learning to play through it."
Freshman Branden Dawson scored 10 points and had five rebounds, but Izzo was only mildly impressed.
"He played..., OK," Izzo said. He had some moments when he was pretty good and some moments when he was in la-la land. He played like a freshman. He has to get better tenfold before next week. He's a kid that's great as responding and I love that about him."
Freshman Travis Trice drew Izzo's ire by launching an ill-advised 3-point shot within seconds of taking the court for the first time. But once Trice settled in, he had a stat line that would any pure point guard happy: six assists, zero turnovers, 10 points on 3-for-5 shooting from the floor and 4-for-5 from the line.
"As soon as I shot it I thought, `Oh man, you shouldn't have done that,' " Trice said. "I looked over (to the bench) and I already knew what was coming. (Izzo) even said, that's a Harry High School shot. He just said, move on from there. I said I'll get you back."
Now that Trice has established an acceptable baseline, such performances are going to be expected.
"He did seem seem comfortable which will help because we have other options," Izzo said. "He was very good defensively and I thought he started seeing the court a little better. He can shoot the ball when he takes good shots. He had a couple bad ones, but that's the way it goes right now. I thought he had a very solid performance."
Redshirt freshman Russell Byrd continued to rehabilitate from a third surgery on his foot that sidelined him all summer. His minutes went up from six against Ferris State to 13 versus Hillsdale and he made two of three 3-point shots and a free throw for seven points.
"It was a confidence-builder," Byrd said. "It's going to be a slow process."
Izzo won't rush Byrd, but can't wait until he's full strength.
"He's on two days, off a day right now," Izzo said. "It's hard to push those minutes. Sometimes he still can't cut and guard, and he struggles on a couple things, but all-in-all I think he had a very good performance.
"He's got size, solidness, he's ready to shoot and he's comfortable shooting it. I think he's going to help us a lot. This week, we're going to try to push a few more days in a row. If I could get 15 minutes out of him, that would be awesome."