February 9, 2012

Beyond The Box Score: Comp on MSU Hoop

EAST LANSING - Four things, and other stuff, going Beyond The Box Score in the wake of Michigan State's 77-57 victory over Penn State at Breslin Center, Wednesday night.

1. Draymond Green added another chapter to whatever it is he's writing. This chapter was entitled "How to be the go-to man and the go-through man."

When MSU's 22-point lead was reduced to 5 with 9:18 remaining, Green blew his whistle, shook his lantern and signaled to all that it was time to board the DayDay train.

He scored in the post a couple of times, and passed out of the post for assists a couple of times. The offense went through him, as it should. And pretty soon, like seven minutes, later, the lead was back up to 23.

During one possession, Travis Trice tried to call a play. Green pulled rank and overruled. Green called for a play to come to his side, featuring him in the low post.

Player-coached team.

2. Power Quote: Penn State coach Patrick Chambers' comments on what MSU did to regain control of the game during the crucial stretch:

"Coach Izzo did a great job. He got the ball to Draymond Green."

Elaborate, please:

"We couldn't defend him. We tried to go ball pressure; loads from the weak side. He was making quick moves. We were attacking on the dribble. And he got to the foul line. That's what great players do. That's what seniors do, that's what winners do. He's a winner."

3. All About Appling: MSU has been decreasing the load for point guard Keith Appling. Appling had been 1-of-14 from 3-point range in Michigan State's previous six games.

From the field, Appling was 1-of-8 against Minnesota and 1-of-11 last week at Illinois prior to Sunday's Michigan game. Heading into the Michigan game, Izzo had a heart-to-heart with Appling. Not much is known about that meeting, basketball-wise, but I think we can ascertain what Izzo's advice was.

In the past two games, Appling's shot attempts are down. And he is smiling more. His control seems to be on an upswing.

Appling was just 2-of-4 from the field in this game. One field goal was a lay-up, one was a late 3-pointer.

"That last three was good for him and good for us," Izzo said.

Good partly because one of Appling's earlier attempts was an airball.

Appling had seven assists and only one turnover. That's his best passing night since going 9-to-0 against Iowa on Jan. 10.

Appling was 3-of-5 from the field against Michigan on Sunday.

This is a guy who attempted an average of 12 shots per game over the course of seven contests from Dec. 22 to Jan. 17 (the loss at Michigan).

Since the Michigan game, when he was out-played in disturbing fashion by Trey Burke, Appling has been trying to find himself as a player. Rock bottom was his 1-for-11 performance at Illinois last week. In that game, he wasn't only cold as a shooter, he struggled in seeing the floor.

"Coach felt there were some things that they saw that I wasn't seeing, so we went over some film," Appling said.

Appling is feeling more comfortable in his quarterbacking now. So is Izzo, who admitted after practice last Friday that Appling's guard decisions were an issue.

After Appling checked out of the game and took a seat, Wednesday night, Izzo walked down to Appling and rubbed Appling's head, as father would do to son after a good lawn mowing job.

Izzo needs Appling back on track. Wednesday's game provided some steps.

In the past two games combined, Appling is 5-of-9 from the field.

Izzo has advised Appling to send more offense through Green. This has taken some pressure off of Appling and cut down on his number of forced shots.

Appling has been playing nice, efficient, stay-within-yourself basketball for the past two games.

What MSU and Appling need to figure out is which "yourself" the Spartans need him to be. The guy who scored 25 against Indiana when Tom Crean described him as an elite player, or the guy who just carried the mail, like he did in MSU's last two games.

The truth is somewhere in between. For MSU to win championships this year, the point guard is going to have to get back to doing damage from medium range, at-least. But first, he needs to get his groove back. Wednesday's game was a step in that direction.

4. Dawson Trending: Branden Dawson has been the second best player on the team in the past five games, and one of the best freshmen in the country. He has scored 14, 16, 12, 10 and 12 points in those games.

He is a power rebounder, a deadly finisher on the fly and he is improving rapidly on defense.

I don't remember when I've ever seen a physically stronger freshman at MSU than Dawson. That strength has served him well on the boards and is beginning to fuel his defense.

On offense, his best play is when someone else misses a shot. He had four offensive boards against Penn State. When he goes to the boards and gets his hands on a rebound, defenders become mere spectators as he pogo-sticks back up to the rim for a second, third and sometimes fourth shot.

His next best play is when he cuts to the rim while Green is getting double-teamed.

Dawson's development on defense has enabled his playing time to increase. And with it, MSU's team defense has gone from good to very good.

With Izzo able to trust Dawson with more minutes, MSU has become a better rebounding team - just by Dawson's mere presence on the court.

"He has been one bright spot," Izzo said. "He played pretty good defense most of the way. He switched off on Tim Frazier a couple of times. He got a couple of steals (three actually)."

After a good job defensively against Michigan's Tim Hardaway Jr. on Sunday, Dawson will likely be the primary defender on Ohio State's William Buford, Saturday in Columbus.


Something I Think: Quincy Miller of Baylor needs to be suspended for a game or so after that elbow he threw at a Kansas player during a free throw last night.

Something I Heard: Syracuse has not gone past the Sweet 16 since Carmelo in 2003.

Something I Said: Michigan State has a solid chance to beat Ohio State on Saturday, but Michigan has an even better chance to beat OSU on Feb. 18 at Crisler.

Michigan can spread Ohio State out like Purdue did against the Buckeyes and drive the alleys. OSU's team defense seemed only moderately organized and interested against Purdue. OSU will try to be more perky against MSU and OSU, but on defense I believe you are what you are. OSU does not play what I would call Final Four defense.

Four Truths:

1. MSU will employ a lunch-bucket, blunt-force-trauma approach in attempting to knock off Ohio State in Columbus, more so than the spread-and-finesse offensive styles of Purdue and Michigan. (Yes, I used the word "finesse" and "Purdue" in the same sentence).

2. MSU needs to snap out of its shooting slump. (Yes, I think it's just a slump).

3. OSU hasn't seen a defense-and-rebounding package like the Izzo/2012 model.

4. Ohio State had better not bring its B-game.

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