After a blowout on Wednesday that left Coach Izzo angry at his team's dismal second half, Michigan State has an opportunity to work out its kinks and show more energy against an opponent from the bottom half of the Horizon League.
YOUR MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS vs. THE LOYOLA RAMBLERS
THE JACK BRESLIN STUDENT EVENTS CENTER, EAST LANSING, MI
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 8, 2:00 PM EASTERN
TV: BIG TEN NETWORK
RADIO: SPARTAN SPORTS NETWORK
Saturday’s contest is really about Michigan State after their deeply disappointing second half against Arkansas Pine-Bluff. We were treated to a look inside the Michigan State halftime locker room and heard Tom Izzo caution his team to "respect the game" and play against the game not the score as the winner was no longer in doubt. It was easy to understand what he meant – don’t look at the score and coast. Don’t use the margin and opponent as an excuse to play sloppy and practice bad habits. You shouldn’t try to embarrass AK-PB but don’t embarrass yourself either with lackluster effort. Unfortunately, those prohibitions were precisely what the coach and everyone watching saw over the next 20 minutes of game time. MSU followed one of their more impressive halves of the season with one of their worst.
What is Michigan State going to look like playing against Loyola? Coach Izzo has said that he’s done playing such a deep rotation when the players aren’t earning their keep on the court. Chris captured the pervasive news commentary that this might mean the disappearance of Russell Byrd but the word is that Byrd has had one of his finest practices of the year this week. I have to wonder if that’s enough to keep Izzo holding out hope for his sophomore captain just a while longer. It’s pretty clear that Byrd has been given an un-Izzo-like leash thus far but some of his 14mpg might travel elsewhere soon. A surging and conditioned Travis Trice is one likely option with more Appling/Trice backcourts. Branden Kearney may also be rewarded as wing minutes open up from Dawson moving inside.
Speaking of leashes, there isn’t much of one for Matt Costello, huh? Matt posted 3 points in six minutes in the previous game and had another basket erased on a Travis Trice charge after the assist. Not only has he looked intriguing in quick flashes but a dose of Matt Costello sounds like exactly what Izzo is missing on the floor. If he wants emotion and intensity, Costello is going to help at power forward over the other bench options like Byrd and Alex Gauna. Trust in Izzo but I think it’s long overdue to give Costello more minutes, see what he can offer the team, and perhaps get him ready for a larger role deeper in the season. This isn’t a back-up quarterback thing. MC isn’t going to save everything with flight and a cape or function as an MSU cure-all but he can help more than he has so far. #freeMattCostello
Okay, the opponent, right? Last time I wrote a preview for TOC, it was about Boise State, a team picked by many to finish at the far bottom end of their conference. I’m back with the same. Loyola was a dreadful 1-17 (take that, Illinois-Chicago!) in conference play last year and nothing has occurred to drastically alter their place in the Horizon League pecking order. They are off to a decent start going 2-1 against the MAC in addition to a win against a respectable Tennessee Tech team. They sit at 6-2 one win away from tying their total for all of last season with a week off to rest up for this battle against Michigan State.
Their star is 6’8" Ben Averkamp of Germantown, Wisconsin. Though Averkamp is the Ramblers’ best post option and source of their interior size, he’s also an inside/outside presence. Averkamp shot 38% last year from deep on 68 attempts and is 6-16 (37%) over the first eight games. This was partially due to the weakness of Loyola’s perimeter play last year but he can still step out on a sleeping defense. Averkamp doubles up his nearest competition to lead the team in scoring with 16.5ppg and also sets the pace in rebounds and blocks.
A name B1G aficionados might recall is Cully Payne. Payne was a The Sporting News Big Ten All-freshman selection in 2009-2010 before deciding to transfer out of Iowa after a difficult sophomore season was ended early by injury. Running the point, Payne is third on the team in scoring just a fraction behind senior forward Jordan Hicks. At 6’6", Hicks is the man who will spend most of his time occupying the Loyola ‘4’ spot, the subject of much match-up controversy for Michigan State.
As Coach Izzo attempts to tighten his bench, Loyola coach Porter Moser plays multiple athletes for significant minutes. Ten Ramblers clock in for 9 minutes or more per game. A scan of their season statistics shows a pack of players sharing the scoring load after Averkamp and multiple Loyola guards are solid outsider shooters. Bench asset Devon Turk was hot in their last context Saturday against Furman with a team-high 19 points including going 5-7 from deep. A young team with six freshmen and two other newcomers, the Ramblers get more size off the bench with a pair of 6’8’ rookies, Nick Osborne and Matt O’Leary. Joe Crisman is a 6'4" sophomore starting guard who contributes with some streaky shooting (including from the line) but helps on clearing the boards. He is also worthy of praise as the team's resident blogger.
The Loyola history under Moser is to play slow. They’re a 62 possession team this year and that’s only a bit up from their average last season of 61.2, his first at the school. However, the point guard Payne will look for transition opportunities if MSU wants to turn the ball over and he converts an average of 4.6 assists per game. They play man defense so MSU won’t have to worry as much about how to break a zone with ill-suited Branden Dawson placed in the high post for this game. A long-term solution for that problem will have to wait.
Loyola should be an easy win for Michigan State but as we recently learned, a big margin of victory is only as satisfying as your team’s respect for the game. The Spartans are four games and two weeks away from their next big test against Texas to close the non-conference schedule and it’s obvious the team still has much to figure out.