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And So It Begins: Michigan State 85 - Ferris State 58

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The Michigan State Spartans opened their 2011-12 basketball campaign with a relatively easy, somewhat sloppy and fairly intriguing 85-58 exhibition victory over Division II Ferris State. It was a 72 possession game that the Spartans won by starting slowly but steadily pulling away. The final margin of 27 was pretty close to the high-water mark for the game of 30.

As you can see from the home-brewed non-interactive chart below, MSU swept all four factors in beating Ferris:


MSU combined a so-so shooting game (eFG% 48.5) with total domination on the offensive glass to come away with the win. Sound familiar? The Spartans actually came up with more of their own misses than the FSU defenders did, so they were getting a lot of extra bites at the apple. A team has to shoot a lot worse than MSU did to cancel that kind of advantage out.

The poor shooting numbers were largely due to a 3-18 mark on three-pointers and even that was a bit misleading, as they missed their last six attempts after the game was more or less in hand. For the most part MSU won this game in the paint and at the foul line, where they made almost twice as many free-throws as Ferris attempted. The Bulldogs just had no answer for MSU's size and athleticism inside.

The Good

Branden Dawson ― Most of the ink and tweets about this game concerned the performance of Dawson, which seemed even better than advertised. He had 15 points on 7-14 shooting and at least 6 of those were putbacks of missed shots. He had 4 more points on two steals he took all the way to the rack. He also led the team in rebounds with 9, just missing a double-double, 6 of them offensive. He started and played 24 minutes, behind only Appling and Green. He did show a certain lack of focus on defense at times, not always getting back as quickly as he should and getting burned on a couple of set plays, including an alley-oop. Izzo, naturally, did not let that slide and Steve Grinczel quoted Dawson as saying "Coach Izzo just wants things, I wouldn't say perfect, but if you play hard he gets a really good attitude. I really wasn't running back on defense very hard."

Derrick Nix ― Almost as impressive as Nix's physical transformation was his play in the post, now greatly enhanced by carrying less weight and, clearly, working on his post moves in the off-season. He scored twice on a sweet up-and-under move I don't remember him having in his arsenal before and he hit Draymond Green with a nice pass over his left shoulder from the block for a layup. AND he hit all three of his free-throws and looked good doing it, finishing with 15 points and 5 boards in just 17 minutes of action. If he can reproduce any of this against Big Ten-level competition  ― heck, if he can even just keep hitting free-throws at the rate he gets to the line ― he'll be a force to be reckoned with.

Draymond Green ― Tom Izzo finally listened to me! Not really, of course, but I've been saying for a while now that MSU doesn't need a "point guard" as long as they have someone who can handle the ball and let Green facilitate the offense. We saw a lot of that in this game as Green finished with a team-high 8 assists to go along with his 11 points. Also encouraging was that he got his points inside the arc and at the foul line, similar to his sophomore year. He was also the coach on the floor, taking the younger players aside and talking to them.

Keith Appling ― I'm going to go ahead and put Appling here, even though he was 0-4 from three and had only one assist. He got 12 points on 9 shots and was clearly looking to drive the lane and create scoring chances for himself, which is what this team is going to need. He was also solid handling the ball as the primary point guard.

The Not-So-Good

Defense ― OK, they did hold FSU to .8 points per possession, which is going to win most games, but it wasn't an inspiring performance. The freshmen in particular looked a little sloppy and Ferris was getting open looks, they just weren't hitting many of them. And the Bulldogs did get 33% of their misses back, which, given MSU's size advantage and dominance of the offensive glass, is probably higher than it should have been. Izzo should be able to work on that.

Austin Thornton ― Izzo has tabbed Thornton as one of the team leaders this year but, although he hit a three in the first half, he threw the ball away a couple of times, stepped on the line once and finished 1-4 shooting with 4 turnovers. They need more steadiness from him along with occasional scoring.

The Ugly

Outside Shooting ― 3-18 on threes. Ugh. I'm not going to worry too much about this yet, just something to keep an eye on. No one seemed to be forcing anything and they did get 5 points when Travis Trice was fouled on consecutive threes. Appling, Brandon Wood, Russell Byrd and Trice all looked good shooting the ball so hopefully this will regress to the mean by the time they meet North Carolina and Duke.

As a final note MSU got points from 11 different players and 9 guys played at least 10 minutes. It was just an exhibition game against a Divsion II school, but definitely some intriguing developments to think about. The biggest question about this team, unsurprisingly, will be generating points. The second exhibition is coming up on Friday against Hillsdale and then things will really get interesting.