October 31, 2012

Post Game Feed: Breaking down the exhibition

EAST LANSING - Tom Izzo comes out of Michigan State's 85-57 exhibition game victory over Northwood (Fla.) with plenty to gripe about, which is exactly what he wants at this time of year.

"I'll feel worse when I watch the film," Izzo said. "But I'll feel better because we just haven't worked on some of the things. It's going to be a good teaching tape for us, a lot better than some we've had. With them playing that real small lineup, it gives us an idea of what we've got to work on and get better at when we have our two bigs in there."

The Spartans weren't sharp defensively at times against some of the perimeter actions and curls that Northland threw at them.

Secondly, Michigan State didn't clean up the defensive glass well in the first half.

All of it gave Izzo plenty of things to emphasize at halftime, and it will make for some constructive film sessions as the Spartans finally had a chance to try, succeed and fail in a dress rehearsal of sorts against the nation's No. 1-ranked NAIA Division II team, which was coached by former Villanova legend Rollie Massimino.

Izzo liked the fact that Massimino's team played some man-to-man, played some zone, pressed a little bit, double-teamed the post a little bit and essentially gave the Spartans a chance to bump and bang with a quality sparring partner.

Analysis In Brief:

Michigan State played like a high-performance sports car that isn't yet dialed in for the race track.

The Spartans were quick, fast and powerful at times, led by Branden Dawson, Gary Harris and Keith Appling. But sloppiness and inefficiencies prevented Michigan State from turning in a pretty performance.

The No. 14-ranked Spartans feel like they can play fast and skilled, and eventually they probably will. But on this night, their skills didn't keep up with their opening-night excitement. Post players Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne were eager to become more involved as early-option, go-to players in the post - perhaps overly eager. The fine post skills they have been showing in practice were a little rushed and jittery on this night.

MSU was bad at times in half court defense, most likely the product if spending early-season practice time installing full-court pressure, while also diluting halfcourt defensive reps among 10 or 11 players. They're behind schedule in teaching and adhering to Izzo's halfcourt defensive standards, but that's not going to be a long-term problem.

"We were a cluster that first half," Izzo said of team defense. "But some of it was trying to guard five perimeter guys, but that (style of play) won't happen to us very often. I blame us because we haven't had a chance to work on some of that stuff yet."

Northwood trailed by six at halftime, but MSU had too many players, too much horsepower and predictably wore down the visitor by the midway point of the second half.

Massimino said his team prides itself on getting back and playing fine transition defense. But he said MSU's transition game was too much to handle, over the course of 40 minutes.

Izzo, conversely, said his Spartans didn't run nearly as well as he wanted to, and as well as they've been running in practice. He challenged Appling afterward to get the sportscar cranking faster in the near future. Appling said he'll do exactly that.

That's the good news on this night: Massimino thought MSU had a Grade A transition game against Northwood's transition-conscious defense. Izzo would grade MSU's fastbreak as C-minus or lower in this game. An MSU fastbreak outfit that is expected to be the Spartans' best running attack since the national runner-up team of 2009 or the Final Four team of 2005 didn't come close to hitting on all cylinders. The high ceiling of potential remains, and Izzo will gladly get to work on the next steps of fine tuning during Wednesday's practice.

What Happened:

  • Sophomore Branden Dawson scored a team-high 16 points on 8-of-11 shooting, and added seven rebounds to lead the Spartans.

  • Freshman Gary Harris started at wing guard and scored 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including 2-of-6 from 3-point range in his Breslin Center debut.

  • Senior Derrick Nix scored 13 points on 6-of-11 shooting. He and Payne tied for the team high in rebounding with eight. Payne scored 6 points on 3-of-7 shooting.

  • Appling scored just 7 points on 3-of-10 shooting but had seven assists against no turnovers.

  • Sophomore Alex Gauna scored 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting, finishing along the baseline nicely in transition and loose ball opportunities.

  • Sophomore guard Travis Trice had 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting including 2-of-3 from 3-point range. He had 4 assists and 0 turnovers, perhaps standing out as MSU's most efficient overall player.

    What Really Happened:

  • On Dawson: He ran, jumped, finished and tomahawk jammed like he did a year ago, maybe better, just seven months after tearing his ACL.

    He wore a knee brace, and will continue to do so indefinitely.

    "The doctors told me to consider it armor, something that is protecting me," Dawson said.

    He said he is comfortable with the brace, but he thinks it inhibits his straight-line speed at time.

  • Dawson looked good on the highlight reels and in the stat sheet, but he fogged out on defense a few too many times.

    "Brandon Dawson, if you looked at the first five minutes of the game, I think he had eight points and four rebounds, and really didn't do the things we needed him to do to be a successful team, and that was kind of a microcosm of our whole team tonight," Izzo said.

  • It's just one exhibition, but Dawson needs to understand the importance of team defense in the halfcourt. He occasionally lost playing last year for being too casual on defense. He needs to start this season with good habits on that end of the court and not cause people like me to compare him on that end of the court to Durrell Summers or even Shannon Brown. He needs to take the coaching and respond well to the coaching.

    "He didn't guard anybody," Izzo said of Dawson. "He wasn't switching or curling. He was much better defensively the second half."

  • Appling didn't get off to a good start in terms of trying to correct the shooting slump which hindered his sophomore year. Appling was 3-of-10 from the floor and 1-of-4 from three. But his shot continues to look better, for what that's worth. No one is worried.

  • By hitting double figures in just 13 minutes of playing time, Gauna was technically MSU's most productive player on a per-minute basis. He had three rebounds and angered Izzo by failing to haul in four or five other caroms that should have been his.

  • MSU's transition game looked good at times in terms of the Spartans' blitz counterbreak after made baskets. MSU advanced the ball up the right sideline as well as we've seen from a Spartan team in the exhibition season in years.

    Freshman Denzel Valentine will be a positive as the second receiver down the right side in the blitz in the near term and a legendary weapon in that capacity in years to come.

    But Izzo didn't like the transition game off of defensive rebounds.

    "We just didn't run like I want to run; like we've been running in practice," Izzo said.

    Izzo is putting friendly blame on Appling. He is challenging Appling to bust on his teammates to sprint their lanes, and in the process challenging Appling to develop as a vocal leader.

    "Keith Appling and I had a few feuds last year because he kept saying he wanted to run and I kept saying I want to run but you have to get your wing guys, your teammates, to run," Izzo said. "I'm concerned about running the lanes. Last year with Austin Thornton we maybe weren't as good a running team. But this team can run, but if you don't run I think it makes your point guard look bad."


    "We planned on running, but that's one of the things we have to fix," Appling said. "I'm going to push the ball harder and our wings are going to run harder and we are going to get a lot more done, Friday (in the second exhibition against St. Cloud State).

    "A lot of it falls on me. I'm the one that wants to run and I should be motivating everybody else to run."

  • MSU played the first 18 minutes of the game with two entirely different playing groups. A starting lineup of Appling, Harris, Dawson, Nix and Payne played the first five-plus minutes.

    They were relieved by a lineup of Trice, Valentine and Brandan Kearney in the backcourt, with Gauna at five and Russell Byrd at the four.

    Izzo scripted it to make sure he got a look at some specific playing groups, to the point of hindering continuity and rhythm a little bit. He'll take that trade at this time of year.

    He shook it up at times with Trice and Appling playing together, which moved Appling to the two. Those two were joined by Harris at the three and Dawson occasionally at the four. That is MSU's most athletic lineup, and also a tremendous defensive unit. Izzo liked the look of Appling, Trice and Harris together. A lot.

  • Dawson began the second half at the four. Although he struggled with defensive awareness in the first half, MSU put him on Northland's best offensive player, Frenchman Masse Doumbe a 6-foot-8 NAIA All-America and a legit mismatch four in pretty much any conference. Dawson did well against him. Payne had some problems.

    Payne never played defense against mismatch fours last year. MSU would like for him to become capable and dependable in that area this year. Doumbe offered a good test for Payne early this year, and Payne struggled at that end. Izzo said MSU hasn't worked a lot in defending smaller lineups, and that's a fine explanation for now, but it would have been ideal if he would have played sound defense on a tough matchup regardless of a lack of work in that area.

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