When I wrote the Duke preview, I talked about the team needing to be the best version of itself in order to win. Tonight, that was about it in terms of offense against Loyola. In moments, the team did an impression of the San Antonio Spur using a combination of ballhandlers Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine, and Lourawls Nairn to whip the ball inside, out, and around to find the best offensive look. Even though MSU’s perimeter ball movement and kick-out game has been solid intermittently in recent years, the level of interior passing leading to cuts to the hoop was rare stuff for MSU. A big difference was a better performance from Valentine. Denzel had 7 assists to 3 turnovers after 5 miscues against Duke and only 3 assists.
MSU found lots of open looks and knocked them down to approach 90 points. As Coach Izzo noted in the postgame, they scored both in halfcourt situations and on the break. It was a great offensive performance. There were two plays that really stood out to me. If you have the DVR or catch a replay, check them out:
9:30 left in the first half: Matt Costello sets a screen for Trice and fakes a roll to the basket. Instead of continuing down low, he darts back to the elbow. A confused Loyola D sends three men to the baseline, crowding Trice. Trice gives up the ball to Costello who requires a fourth defender to shift towards him. Costello uses his size to look over this defender and find open Brandon Dawson cutting into the available lane. It’s really a pretty play. (Forbes, Dawson, and Costello have a mini gem seconds later, too, though it takes an offensive rebound by BJ to finish.)
There’s also the 8-pass artwork at 12:20 in the second half. Watch as Costello holds the ball waiting for the double team then sends it back out to Trice behind the 3pt line. Trice rotates the ball left to a wide-open Tum Tum in the corner. Now, Clark, Forbes, or Valentine would all shoot this ball but Nairn recognizes that the corner three is not his shot. Instead, he uses the open baseline to attack, drawing a defender from Dawson. Nairn darts by the slow post man then finds Dawson available for another successful cut and basket. Seriously, this is really nice stuff.
Matt Costello (13 pts, 11 reb)
This is the Costello MSU needs. As in the second exhibition, MSU appeared to be trying to get Costello going early. They succeeded and Matt had a handful of quick baskets. Equally important, he didn’t disappear later in the game. Early in the second half, Costello grabbed a pass from Valentine for a score then minutes later jammed home a nasty dunk in a two-man game with Trice. Everyone knows the remaining issue – Costello needs to do this every night with confidence. If the start of the season has suggested anything, it’s that Costello performs better when MSU goes to him with intention instead of waiting for him to find himself in the flow of the offense.
Marvin Clark (5-6 FG, 3-4 3pt, 3 reb)
Though Coach Izzo felt that neither Nairn nor Clark defended as well as they did against Duke, Marvin Clark Jr.’s overall comfort on the court is continually impressive. He hit 3 threes tonight and added 6 more points to tie Branden Dawson for the team high with 15. Who saw that coming in the third game of the season? Can’t blame a player for getting a little excited. There’s been a lot of people, myself included, thinking about how much this team might miss Kenny Kaminski. Even though he hit 75% tonight from deep, Clark is unlikely to sustain quite the same level of accuracy as Kenny. However if he can push 40%, Clark arguably does everything else Kenny did as well or better, especially rebound and play above the rim. There will be frustrating games of inexperience but MSU might have found another player who quickly exceeds expectations.
Again, Izzo’s defensive criticism aside, Nairn was who MSU needed him to be tonight. He used his speed and passing to run the break and collected 7 assists. He didn’t force his shot but drained one jumper and drew a foul on a drive. Overall, point guard play was very strong. Travis Trice was the third Spartan to collect 7 assists and continued to play like he was born on a basketball court. It’s great to see a player have his finest year as a senior, and Trice is gearing up to do just that.
Denzel Valentine (12 pts, 6 reb, 7 ast)
Essentially, what you saw tonight was summer, Moneyball Denzel – super smooth into his shot, walking the line between crisp passing and hot-dogging, and playing assertive yet staying within himself. Yep, there was a forced pass or two but you have to live with that with Denzel.
After a very stingy first half (14 points), MSU allowed Loyola to score 38 in the second half. Yes, the pace had increased skewing the results but MSU still suffered from numerous defensive breaks. Tonight, it looked like perimeter rotation was as much a problem as dribble penetration. Honestly, I felt that Loyola’s indecision let MSU off the hook on multiple occasions. A confident team of gunners probably would have attempted and sank more threes against this defensive performance. This might never be a great defensive unit but it needs to get better. The return of Bess and Ellis should help.
46%. The front-end misses against Duke hurt and tonight was not much better. You can’t have Costello, Trice, and Dawson combining for 3-8 as starters. Again, this team may never be great here but they can’t remain this bad.
Even though it’s early, you can start to see the outlines of who this team might be. We’re not going to be super physical, but sharp shooting and selfless passing will result in dynamic offense. Each player knows his role and when everyone executes, we can hang with just about anyone. Defense is a work in progress. How we gel and what contribution Bess and Ellis make could be vital. The Orlando Classic starts with a "non-bracketed" game against Santa Clara on Monday and the tournament starts on Thanksgiving. With Marquette, Kansas, Tennessee, Georgia Tech, and others in the field, this will be an excellent test for the Spartans.