Approaching a season in which MSU’s expectations were uncharacteristically low, what many Spartan fans wanted was a basketball team who played high-effort, cohesive basketball as a unit, a team whose demeanor and attitude made you excited to stand behind them no matter the odds. I’m thrilled to say that we got exactly that last night. No, Michigan State did not win the game and, during the second half, never really got that close. However, with serious foul-trouble and a true freshman point guard pressed into extended service, this game was much closer than many (myself included) had expected. MSU also got caught up on a night in which John Henson looked every bit the high lottery pick he's been heralded as. He scored 12 points from the field, added 7 rebounds, and no one missed his absurd 9 blocks. As the announcers accurately told us all night, that block number doesn't even reflect the number of shots he altered.
Without a doubt, the key stretch of the game was the end of the first half when the fouls really caught up to Michigan State. Both Nix and Payne (and an injured Dawson) sat on the bench at the same time and a noticeable drop appeared in the MSU frontcourt. The offensive rebounds that had been vital to taxing UNC now became defensive rebounds in the hands of Zeller, Henson, and Barnes. A game that had rested at 17-12 MSU at 10 minutes unraveled as UNC extended a their run into a 43-27 lead at the top of the second half. In a contest that was mostly silver lining for me, I’m encouraged by this. What it tells us is that both Nix and Payne have improved to the point that they’re major pluses when on the floor against the number one team in the country.
Now, I’m a bit more of a novice on the Four Factors chart as opposed to the Con-T and the infamous KJ. However, I think I can interpret this one to confirm what any fan watching the game already knew: Michigan State shot terribly and North Carolina made a whole lot of free throws. Appropriately, that was the story. In the mythic world of "could have’s," if MSU had made more of their shots (especially 3’s – 2/20 – egads!) and kept UNC off the line, we might be talking about a major upset this morning.
For the rest of the recap, I'm going Clint Eastwood, and I don't mean The Gorillas
Draymond Green - Day Day led everyone on the floor with an epic 18 rebounds. Against a team of UNC's size, length, and athleticism, that is even more impressive. Normally going 6-19 would keep you out of the "Good" catagory but that was above par for the team's shooting on Friday night.
Branden Dawson - When the whole of the Spartan fanbase gasped as Dawson lay grimacing on the floor, it wasn't merely because of the potential of what his season might be. In the first minutes of the game, Dawson had already demonstrated when made him such a prized recruit. Again, against a team like UNC, he was a major factor getting offensive rebounds with 4 of his total 7 coming off of MSU misses. He finished with 10 points in his opening night as a Spartan.
Travis Trice – Admit it – despite all the positive press, you were worried that the team was about to fall apart when forced to play a true freshman point guard for extended minutes against the No. 1 team in the country. I suspect even Coach Izzo was unsure as Travis was one of the last subs to come on to replace a starter. Instead, Trice lived up to his hype (mostly). Though there were a few dubious passes and ill-advised plays, Trice looked surprisingly poised against North Carolina. His confident ball-handling allowed him to steady the MSU offensive and even help us make our second half run. It was clear what Trice has to work on as a freshman but that will come in time. On Friday night, there was no better baptism by fire to gain experience.
- The Centers (Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne) - From my view, both players showed great improvement from last season. Payne responded positively to being inserted into the starting line-up. He had a knack for getting to the free throw line, making 4 out of his 6 attempts. Building off of a dunk on a break and one outstanding post move, he finished with 10 points in only 11 minutes. Nix did the dirty work and was part of the o-board crew. His new found quickness allowed him to grab 9 total rebounds (4 offensive) and stay in position on defense. The fact that he earned 17 minutes against a running team like Carolina is a real credit.
- Rebounding - Already covered in the individual accounts but it deserves repeating. MSU outrebounded UNC 49-34. Much of rebounding is effort-driven and this gap is evidence that the 2011-2012 Michigan State squads wants to play hard and win. If they maintain that intensity, MSU might really be able to do a number on a team with less in the arsenal than North Carolina.
Yep, I know that was a lot of "Good's" but I think this was a very solid game with a lot of positive things to take away.
- Fouls - We can argue a great deal (Izzo already did) about any biases in the officiating but the fact remains that UNC did a great job of drawing fouls and Michigan State failed to adjust quickly enough to the way the game was being called. This problem ground MSU's first half momentum to a halt and erased their small lead.
- There is no one I selfishly want to see take a bigger step forward this year than Keith Appling. Keith was recruited out of high school as a major scorer but carved out a niche as a defensive stopper during his freshman year. This year, the spotlight has been on how he adjusts to his role as a point guard. For the first night, let's hit the recent button. Keith's 5 fouls came in only 19 minutes while hitting 2 of 7 shots with no assists and 4 TOs. This is a game best left forgotten. Everyone will be watching to see if he slides back to the "2" spot with Trice moving into the starting line-up. On a positive note, he attacked and got to the basket effectively. On different night, he may be able to adjust and pull-up or at least get a few more 50/50 calls his way.
- Shooting - The horror! You can look at the raw stats, the tempo-free, consult a ouija board, read Heart of Darkness, it doesn't matter. That was U-G-L-Y. Going into the season, we suspected shooting would not be the team's strength but 22/72 (30%) and 2/20 from deep will not cut it against most opponents. Let's blame the ocean.
Con-T will have more on this later but, with Duke sneaking out with a one-point victory over Belmont, MSU has some reason to be optimistic in their next big match-up at MSG on Tuesday night. With a schedule like this, 1-1 would be an great way to start the season.