(Note: Sorry for the bad headline. I tried)
If MSU had lost to Kansas and beat Miami, would you feel better about things?
Before we get into the game, it's worth noting Vegas basically had this as a pick-em game, and KenPom had MSU by two. I picked Miami, expecting MSU to be sluggish. So while this 67-59 defeat certainly is an unfortunate loss, I'm not going to call it a "bad" one just yet. KenPom had the Canes at No. 40 in the preseason, and the loss to Florida Gulf Coast came with a suspended Durand Scott, who scored 15 against MSU.
This is a Miami team that could very well make the tournament, and will when they play like that. But maybe I'll feel differently about this loss come February.
Gary Harris and Travis Trice returned, but the Spartans overall looks pretty lethargic, especially on the defensive end in key stretches. It was a pretty even first half, with MSU taking a four-point lead into the break. But the Hurricanes kept kitting their 3s and making free throws and pulled away down the stretch. MSU couldn't string together the stop-and-scores to bring the game within reach in the second half.
For Miami, Trey McKinney Jones went 5-for-7 from deep for 18 points, while Shane Larkin went 3-for-4 and had 15 points. (Note: All stats are being taken from the ESPN box score because I don't want to wait)
Miami came into the game as a 31-percent shooting team from three-point range on the year. They made 56 percent (9-for-16) on Wednesday. Miami was shooting 67 percent at the free-throw line and Reggie Johnson was shooting 60 percent. The Hurricanes went 16-for-18 (89 percent) and Johnson went 6-for-6. MSU went 5-for-11 from the free-throw line and 6-for-14 from three. You can live with that second number, but the free throws and Miami's threes were pretty much the difference in the final score.
Then again, some of those kick-out threes came because of penetration, which was frequent on Wednesday. The lineup MSU opened both halves with (Appling, Denzel Valentine, Branden Dawson, Adreian Payne, Derrick Nix) has major offensive problems. Appling is the only one who can consistently make a jump shot, and with both bigs down low, Dawson is left roaming out high. Dawson had five turnovers, continuing to be a liability in that department.
The lone bit of good news: just 11 turnovers! Having two of the team's top three guards back certainly helped with that.
MSU got the ball in to Nix quite a bit early, but he struggled against a player as strong as him. After that, MSU didn't go to the bigs very much down low. Payne and Nix combined to go 3-for-10 for seven points with 10 rebounds (five each).
Izzo said after the game that he might be done with the Payne/Nix together, and I think that's the right move. A team like Miami was supposed to be good for the duo. But neither is a consistent offensive threat, and they're getting killed on screens too often. A smaller lineup makes this team more versatile and puts more scoring threats out there. The return of Harris and Trice give MSU enough depth to do that. The defense will be OK.
It has been said a million times, but MSU has been all over the world, and this does look like a tired team. Izzo will be the first to point the finger at himself. Just be thankful that Trice was healthy enough to give Appling some sort of rest. He's getting exhausted by the end of every recent game.
On the other hand, take care of UL-Lafayette and Boise State like you should, and maybe he has some more rest (though Boise just beat Creighton).
--Appling had 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting with five rebounds, four assists and three turnovers. A lot being put on his plate, and he's handling it great. There was one point where he dribbled out of a double team a few times in a few seconds, something I never imagined he'd be able to do last year.
--Harris scored 12 on 5-for-11 shooting in 25 minutes in his first game back since the shoulder injury. Izzo said he's far from 100 percent, but he didn't look tentative, grabbing eight rebounds (four on the offensive end!) and still has the ability to finish strong at the hoop. A very good sign moving forward.
--Trice had nine points on 3-for-6 shooting in nine minutes in his first action since the UConn game — 3-for-3 from three-point range. Having Harris and Trice as legit three-point threats certainly helps the offense go inside-out and get the ball moving around. Trice and Harris seemed to work very well together, just my observation.
--Dawson had 11 points on 5-for-7 shooting, but played just 21 minutes because of the above-mentioned turnover issues (5). He had four rebounds, three on the offensive end. Until he develops any sort of a jump shot, I'd much rather see him as an undersized 4 than at the 3, where he's often just roaming around.
--Valentine scored just three points on 1-for-5 shooting in 22 minutes. He had four rebounds and three assists, including some typical highlight passes, but reports of his "arrival" after the Oakland game appear to have been exaggerated.
Overall, the pieces are there for this team to be very, very good. As with most years, it just takes the nonconference schedule to put it all together. Obviously it sucks for fans, especially with Trey Burke trolling you on Twitter, but the ceiling for this team is very high.
Thankfully, Harris and Trice have been able to come back, cutting down the turnovers and adding some offensive weapons. They'll figure out a rotation over the next month and I'd bet things are sorted out by the Texas game. Until then, keep grumbling and sighing.