Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.
11/17/2006 01:49:00 AM
Early Returns: Michigan State
Drew Neitzel, who has moved to shooting guard this season, is the only junior in the Spartans' starting lineup.
Sizing up Michigan State after its 63-61 win over No. 19 Texas in the semifinals of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic on Thursday at Madison Square Garden ...
BRIGHT SPOT: I worried for Drew Neitzel's well-being after watching him get wrapped in a violent hug-slash-headlock by 6-foot-8 teammate Marquise Gray when the buzzer sounded. But the Spartans' slender point guard was on such a high that, in the postgame locker room, he said he didn't even remember the embrace.
Neitzel had a reason to be euphoric, having just scored the game-winning bucket, a layup with 2.4 seconds left to break a 61-61 tie. It was the kind of gutsy drive that coach Tom Izzo needed out of his junior shooting guard; Neitzel knifed through a slipping Justin Mason and a converging D.J. Augustin near the top of the key, and delivered the most important field goal of his 15-point, six-assist night.
"We got the ball in and [the play] broke down," Neitzel said. "Coach [Tom Izzo] said if the play broke down, go with the high ball screen. I saw the paint wide open, so I just split it -- and I was fortunate enough to get to the basket."
When the Spartans said in the preseason that Neitzel, a career 5.9-point-per-game scorer, was going to be their primary source of offense, it was only natural for neutral observers to be skeptical. Izzo, however, was a believer: "[Neitzel] has always been surrounded by exceptional scoring talent, and he's looked to be a distributor," the coach said then. "I have no doubt he can be the scorer we need him to be, while still ranking among the league leaders in assists."
In the three full games that Michigan State has moved Neitzel off the ball and played sophomore Travis Walton at the point (wins over Youngstown State, The Citadel and Texas), the plan has worked: Neitzel has averaged 16.3 points and 4.7 assists. And Gray, the guy who gave Neitzel some rough lovin' on the Garden floor, is proud: "[Drew] has to be one of our go-to guys," he said. "For him to make that shot, and play like he did down the stretch, it was really big."
FRESH FORCE: Kevin Durant, the all-world freshman for the Longhorns, was a five-star power forward out of Rockville, Md. -- and is considered a lock to be an NBA lottery pick. Raymar Morgan was a four-star small forward out of Canton, Ohio -- and is expected to stay at Michigan State for a while. On Thursday night, however, Morgan was just as, if not more, valuable than Texas' budding superstar. While Durant faded in the second half, scoring just five points (to finish with 21), Morgan poured in 11 of his 18, including an alley-oop with 6:25 left to put the Spartans up 58-55.
"Raymar was fired up to play against [Durant]," said Neitzel, who threw Morgan the lob. "[Durant] was the second-rated guy coming out of high school after Greg Oden, and Ray wanted to prove himself. Both guys showed how good of players they're going to be."
If Morgan continues his hot start -- he's the first freshman in MSU history to score in double-digits in each of his first four games -- he'll be considered one of the top rookies in the Big Ten.
PRESSING QUESTION: How good are these Spartans? Even Izzo said after the game, "Don't kid yourself. If I looked at these two teams right now, I still think [Texas has] got a much better basketball team."
Michigan State had a few sloppy stretches, turning the ball over 16 times to Texas' nine, and were helped by the fact that the Longhorns' stud freshmen (Durant, Augustin and Damion James) played like freshmen in the second half, almost completely abandoning their offense and settling for a barrage of often ill-advised three-pointers. On defense, Texas' rookies struggled to rotate in their 2-3 zone, letting the Spartans shoot 52.9 percent from beyond the arc. "We got lucky, we won a game tonight, and it's going to help us grow," Izzo said.
The things Michigan State did well, though, were play classic, Izzo-style defense and finish strong, with Neitzel scoring the clutch basket, Drew Naymick grabbing key offensive rebounds, and Morgan staying cool under pressure. The Spartans weren't expected to contend for the Big Ten title, and I still think they're a few steps behind Wisconsin and Ohio State. There will be plenty of nights this season when MSU struggles to score, because it doesn't have enough offensive options after Neitzel and Morgan -- but the rest of the conference race is wide open, and it has as good of a shot as anyone does at third place.
People forget that Neitzel averaged better than 30 points a game in high school, even though teams knew that he was his team's primary scorer and were adjusting their defenses for him. He hasn't scored in the past because Izzo demands that his point guards pass first.
I don't see MSU contending for the national title this year, but I can't understand why SI doesn't even see them in the tournament at season's end. Defense alone will carry them there, and the freshmen and sophomores are only going to get better as they learn Izzo's system.
Everyone under-estimates MSU this year and Tom Izzo fuels that by understating his team (as he always does). Actually though, Tom Izzo has a perfect team for his style of play - blue collar players all bought into the "team first, do whatever it takes, focus on fundamentals and toughness approach...". No prima donnas on this team - everyone bring their lunch pail to the gym. First rate character top to bottom - everyone will graduate. Sports Illustrated left MSU out of their pre-season 65 at the big dance - Watch MSU as they get their 10th (or 11th) consecutive big dance invite in March...
In a year where all hype and no show is being paid to Ohio St, MSU can and maybe they will challenge for the Big Ten. Wisconson is good and IU, Michigan, Purdue, & Penn St will win some games, but it's a little early to say MSU is fighting for third.
I do believe they have other scoring options & they are stronger in the middle than they were before Paul Davis. Collectively they have gone back to Izzo bball controling the boards and providing tough interior D.
Last time Tom Izzo was expected to have a down year...was Mateen Cleaves freshman year...when they won the Big Ten.
Michigan State is consistently underrated by the media in years considered to be "rebuilding" years for the team. However, what everyone fails to remember is that 1. this team is always coached by Tom Izzo, who never fails to produce defensive rebounding teams, and 2. MSU tends to exceed expectations more in the years where expectations for them are low.
So, as a Michigan State student, Izzone member, and diehard Spartan fan, I say, please, keep underestimating my team - and watch them prove you wrong time and time again.
I haven't seen anyone yet mention the importance of Michigan State's bench. When State does substitute, they don't experience as much of a dropoff as many teams do. That's onereason why Tom Izzo so willingly plays 8 to 10 players in just about every game.
Notice the difference in production from the bench last night. It's one of the reasons why State won. One of the turning points, in fact, was the few minutes that Idong Ibok played played. In that stretch, he blocked 3 shots, and that, I think, changed the game.
Luke Great point about Raymar Morgan---I he may have outplayed Durant by just a touch. ESPN spent way too much time on the hype machine with Durant. He's going to be great, but it was like they had no other information on the other players, both on MSU and Texas. Abrams and Augustin's efforts were outstanding, but all we heard about from the unprepared announcers was about Durant. MSU surprised me last night with their balance. This Raymar Morgan kid could really make a difference this year.
I was watching the game last night and I really liked the way Raymar Morgan played and Kevin Durant played. I always say that if you "live by the three then you die by the three," but it seemed as though that both teams struggled to find an inside game. It also seems as though if the Spartans can teach Raymar to stay inside and if Neitzel can continue to be a floor leader then the spartans will be good down the road. Now Texas seems to be very active and aggressive which is good but they seem to lack the discipline when it comes to defense. I liked the way that Augustin runs the floor and they need to continue to run their opponents out of the gym. Durant has good touch, once texas continues to play the full court game rather than the half court then texas will be fun to watch in March. When the Spartans decide not to rely on the three and work the game inside then they will be fun to watch in March.
Rick Barnes said it himself, they lost the game because Michigan State was better on the boards. Remember that MSU has always based their best teams off of being tougher and better rebounders than their competition. If you look at this team you see exactly the kind of team that Izzo wants. A team that will beat you up and fight til the end. Whoever decided to leave them out of the NCAA tourney has no idea what they are talking about. With Tom Izzo as coach MSU has done nothing but win year after year and year after year go to the tourney. So why would this year be any different. State is going to win again this year and again they will be in the tourney and all the people who left them out will just look like they have no idea what they are talking about.
We passed on our season tickets this year at the Breslin, we thought it looked to be a down year anyway. We've been spoiled with a ton of great ball in that place, Big Ten Champs, Nat'l Champs. It was a good run. If they can continue to build on that win over Texas, "down year" may be the wrong term for this team. "Overachievement" would be a welcome fit. With Izzo at the helm, you know that is possible. Anyone have any tickets for sale?