November 26, 2012

Hoop Feed: Readying for ACC Challenge

EAST LANSING - With the Big Ten will go for its fourth straight victory in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge this week, Tom Izzo doesn't feel any better or worse about the results than he did back when the Big Ten lost 10 straight.

"When we win it, do I feel like, 'Oh boy this give us a chance to get to the Final Four?' Hell no," Izzo said.

Michigan State is 3-2 in the Challenge during seasons in which the Spartans eventually made it to the Final Four.

Michigan State will play at Miami on Wednesday, the second day of the Challenge.

The Spartans are 6-6 all-time in the Challenge, along with one cancelation due to condensation on a neutral court in Richmond, Va.

"I do think it's an intriguing matchup as far as two good conferences," Izzo said. "I think that brings a little - I don't want to say validity - some excitement to it."

Now that the Big Ten has gained an upper hand in the matchups, Izzo isn't putting any more stock into the outcome of the Challenge than he did when his conference was losing.

"I don't think it's apples-to-apples in any way where it determines that one conference is better than the other," Izzo said. "When you play at home, who you play on the road, the matchups make it so that it isn't apples-to-apples. The first few years, Indiana and Ohio State didn't even participate in it and they were two of our best teams."

Does the Big Ten/ACC Challenge set the tone for year-long perceptions?

"For a lot of years, Dick (Vitale) set the tone on that," Izzo said with a smile. "It was a self-inflicted tone."

Izzo answered only one question about the Challenge at his weekly press conference on Monday at Breslin Center. In other years when the Big Ten was struggling in the Challenge, he fielded far more questions about the sagging reputation of the Big Ten. Now that the Big Ten is on top, with a streak of Challenge victories over the ACC, and has three teams ranked in the top five, Izzo took more questions about more immediate problems, such as the Spartans' turnover issues.

Trice Set To Return?

Sophomore guard Travis Trice indicated on Twitter that he has been cleared to return for Wednesday's game against Miami.

At noon on Monday, Izzo said this was news to him.

"We'll see how if he practices today," Izzo said.

Izzo said freshman guard Gary Harris is still a couple of weeks away from returning.

"He wants to come back today," Izzo said. "But we're not going to do that."

Izzo said he is hoping to get both of them up near full-go in practice after final exams, in December.

Points Of Discussion

Items discussed during Izzo's weekly press conference:

  • With MSU committing 20 turnovers in each of its last two games, Izzo said. "I think it's a lack of guys just stepping up and doing their job, or they are trying to do too much," Izzo said. "It's guys trying to make plays that are not their roles. But it is hard to define roles when you are throwing guys in with two key guys out.

    "In fairness to everybody, it's just been a little difficult with (limited) practice time in between (the recent games), there is no way to improve on what we're doing."

  • Izzo says team communication on defense has been good. Team field goal percentage is at .373. Were it not for turnovers-for-touchdowns, as he calls them, "our defensive percentage would be down in the low 30s," Izzo said. "And that might be the best in the country."

  • He said the biggest positive from the last three weeks is the fact that MSU has been able to survive its schedule with a 4-1 record while also getting extended playing time for support players such as Brandan Kearney and Russell Byrd. For better or worse, Izzo has gotten a clear look at the positives and negatives of both players.

    "That will help us out in the long run," Izzo said. "It's hard to figure out some of the struggles we've had. But there is no panic in me because I know exactly where we're at and why we're there, but at the same time if you are a college basketball player you can't turn the ball over like we've been doing.

    "Everybody has gotten a chance. And we have survived the schedule. That's a big plus for the coaches. Like Jud said, I could have just played five guys and walked the ball up the court and not given people opportunities."

    The opportunities have given Izzo knowledge, for better or worse.

    "If some players aren't playing in two weeks, they've determined it, not me," he said.

  • Byrd's role in the playing group is probably under the most scrutiny right now. Byrd is shooting just 5-of-20 from the field, including 3-of-17 from 3-point range. His problems have carried over to ball control. He had four turnovers on Sunday and has a 3-to-10 assist-to-turnover ratio for the year.

    "Do I think it's fair to evaluate Russell after not playing for two and a half years? No, I don't," Izzo said. "That's why I'm still sticking with him.

    "Has his confidence gone a little bit? Yes. He is a shooter, which is like being a pitcher, a goal tender, a kicker, they're all wacko. Sometimes they just go AWOL. That is delicate.

    "The only way a shooter can get out of it is to work his way out of it, and he is working on it. He's in there shooting all the time."

    Izzo believes Byrd's shot selection can improve.

    "He's taking shots that are too far behind the line," Izzo said. "Could he shoot those in high school? Sure. Can he shoot those now? No.

    "But that has no impact on giving the ball to the opponent. If it does, then he's got a problem. Do i think maybe a missed shot is getting to a guy? Sure. But if somebody is looking for me to give hi a shot of encouragement ... I give him a lot of shots of minutes.

    "It's a tough level. You have to produce. I still believe he hasn't had enough time (to fully recover and find his game)."

  • Izzo said MSU might be inclined to play a bigger lineup for more minutes against the Hurricanes, due to the fact that Miami plays big lineups. That's a clear contrast to MSU's most recent opponent, Louisiana-Lafayette.

    "They sometimes went with five guards for more than a couple of minutes," Izzo said. "You can adjust but you have guards that are shooting threes and pressuring you. It's hard to play two bigs under those circumstances. It is pretty hard to play Matt Costello and Derrick Nix against five guards.

    "I say that and some people say, 'Well then you can post them up down low at go at it that way,' but then maybe that's not what you do best."

  • Sophomore Brandan Kearney started the second half of the Louisiana-Lafayette game over freshman Denzel Valentine. Izzo did not indicate whether his starting lineup would change for Wednesday's game against Miami, but believes the 6-foot-5 sophomore from Detroit is making progress despite being foggy on his role.

    "I think he feels he has to do more," Izzo said of Kearney. "There are times out there when there aren't many people to score. I don't blame him for it. My thing is they have to play within themselves. Last year, he defended, he fed the post, and if he was open he would take a shot."

  • Izzo said Keith Appling's defense suffered in the final minutes of Sunday's game due to playing 40 minutes, then 38, then another 38 over a six-day span.

    "Never in my three years (with Appling) did I see anyone go around Keith," Izzo said. "And that kid (for Louisiana-Lafayette) was quick, but that wasn't Keith Appling's fault. He maxed it out. There is no question that he is the best-conditioned kid I've had since Charlie Bell, but he just had nothing left."

  • Appling's on-court demeanor continues to improve, Izzo said. Izzo liked the way Appling was demonstrative in calling out Alex Gauna for not playing proper ball-screen defense during one sequence in the second half on Sunday.

  • Izzo had a film session with Valentine Sunday night. Among other things, they watched footage of Valentine's five turnovers from earlier that day.

    "Denzel said, 'My god, it looks ridiculous on film,'" Izzo said. "I said, 'Yeah it does.' And that's part of the learning process for a freshman."

  • Izzo liked what he saw out of freshman center Matt Costello on Sunday. Costello played six minutes and played acceptable defense against Louisiana-Lafayette's hot mismatch forward, Shawn Long.

    But Costello still needs time to come back from missing more than two weeks with a back injury.

    "When he first came back, he looked like Herman Munster out there," Izzo said. "He's still not in any shape yet. Costello is going to help us and we have to get him more minutes and yet I've got to get him in some practices. He's been back for probably a week but we haven't practiced our stuff in more than a week."

    MSU returned to a full day of practice on Monday.

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