Michigan State topped 76-41 Texas Southern in what I can call a joyous victory. Basketball was clearly fun tonight for the Spartans with players smiling and celebrating throughout the game. The camaraderie and smart basketball was reflected in the bunching at the top for team scoring. Four players hit double digits - Dawson (13), Green (12), Trice (11), and Payne (10). MSU’s best teams of recent years haven’t always been known for blowouts and this was a nice exception. You don't want to make too much of one game but enough happened out there to keep fans feeling good about the prospects of not just on-the-court success but off-court harmony this season.
One of the biggest stories for me was Tom Izzo’s aggression in trying out different line-ups and roles. With the intense spotlight and daunting opponents of MSU’s first two games, there was little opportunity to take risks and experiment. With a large lead that never wavered, Coach Izzo worked players in unlikely combinations and new circumstances. The first sign that something unique was happening was Russell Byrd’s early entry into the game as a post player against a smaller TSU line-up eight minutes in. A lot was made of the upper-body work Byrd had done starting during the end of his high school career and the possibility that he could put the "forward" in "wing-forward." I don’t know that new PF Byrd made a huge impact but that wasn’t the point; it was seeing him tried out in the role that stood out.
The real interest was in negotiating the backcourt. Keith Appling looked much more comfortable whether running the team or playing alongside Travis Trice. I thought he was playing faster and lacked the uncertainty and hesitation that had been holding his game back. At one point, MSU ran with Brandon Wood, Trice, and Appling all at once. Playing alongside Draymond Green, there were four players who could immediately attack off the defensive glass and push the break. The ability to attack and also move the ball in the halfcourt was a major feature throughout the game. The result was a surprisingly hot shooting night with MSU notching a 54% eFG rate (pops out in the Four Factors) and hitting a respectable (by comparison) 33% of their threes. To really mix it up, Brandon Kearney played in the first half and closed the game by running the point himself. It looks like Kearney’s solid week of practice paid off in earning him minutes and trust.
We should also mention the defense which held Texas Southern to only 41 points in a 72 possession game. This wasn’t some MSU vs. Wisconsin 52-46 slugfest and that makes the defensive effort look even more impressive. Adreian Payne picked up two blocks and the team as a whole accounted for 10 steals.
Here’s the Four Factors and a few player bullets after the jump...
There's definitely more that could be said. Dawson continues to look like a pro. Adreian Payne's development has been impressive leading to last night's 10 and 10 double-double and Austin Thornton played well enough to hold off cries for Keith Nichol or Andrew Maxwell for at least a couple of days.***
MSU has a stretch of highly winnable contests coming up with a three game run of Arkansas-Little Rock, Milwaukee, and EMU. If MSU can continue to build chemistry and confidence while Izzo learns his team, Michigan State could have a real shot against Florida State a week from Wednesday.
***Joke! Joke! I am not comparing AT to Kirk Cousins. However, comments about him remind me of people's attitude towards struggling QBs - the guy behind him MUST be better, right?