On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being not at all surprised and 10 being utter astonishment, today's hire of Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne head coach Dane Fife as the newest Michigan State assistant coach was about a 2.5. Izzo has made his appreciation for Fife well known for more than a decade now, ever since he tried to recruit 1998's Mr. Basketball in Michigan to MSU. Since then Izzo has helped Fife out in many ways. When Fife was picked as IPFW's head coach Izzo offered his aid:
When I first decided that I wanted to be a college coach, Coach Izzo had me come meet him in his office. He has been willing to call recruits for us and you just don't see that very much. It's not just me, Coach Izzo does that for a lot of people.
Michigan State also scheduled a game at IPFW in 2008 as another show of support. Seeing as Fife will be an assistant coach it will be hard to predict how his skills will translate to the Spartans' performance, if any change can be discerned at all. After the jump though, I'll give three areas where improvements could happen:
- Outside shooting -- Contrary to Izzo's philosophies, Fife's Mastodon teams exhibit the hallmarks of a perimeter-oriented squad: low turnover percentage, low offensive rebound percentage, and a low free throw rate. One of the critical reasons this approach worked was that the past three years his teams have had three point percentages that have ranked third (40.8%, 2008-09), 35th (37.9%, 2009-10), and 22nd (38.4%, 2010-11) nationally. Four of the Mastodons ranked in the top 300 in offensive rating this past season (compare that to zero for Michigan State), and let's hope that Fife can rub off some of that touch on Keith Appling and Russell Byrd this season.
- Perimeter, specifcally three-point defense -- Flashback to February of this year. All of the Big Ten teams had unprecedented access to the hottest spot in town -- the three-point shot. In the six-game span where MSU went 1-5, the following were their defensive three-point percentages: 47.1%, 50.0%, 47.6%, 52.4% (the only win), 33.3%, and 62.7% Those were the low points in a season where the Spartans allowed 36.3% of opponents' three-pointers, 270th in the nation. Compare that mediocre number to IPFW's three-point defense the past three years; the Mastodons' opponents have shot 33.0% from behind the arc in that time. While Izzo teams have typically had decent three-point defense now may be the time for a refresher course, and Fife, an ex-Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, could very well provide it.
- Intangible leadership-like substance -- I'll be honest -- the existence of this last bullet point will only be determined on wins and losses. KJ tweeted that Fife is Travis Walton with head coaching experience, and I'd have to agree. Not only was Fife the youngest head coach when he was handed the reigns to the Mastodons at age 25 (random thought: did cavemen ride Mastodons? The evidence says YES), he held that title until he joined MSU today. That has to be good for something, but I'll be honest -- I have no idea how Fife's head coaching experience will translate or manifest itself, but it has to be a positive.