Michigan State Basketball: Nix's Career-High 25 Prompts Optimism, Questions

Adam BiggersSenior Analyst IIDecember 22, 2012

Tom Izzo may finally have the Derrick Nix he always wanted.
Tom Izzo may finally have the Derrick Nix he always wanted.Rob Carr/Getty Images

Derrick Nix entered Michigan State with immense potential, fresh off of a state championship with Detroit Pershing in 2009.

But he's been more of an enigma than anything else.

Now a senior, Nix has battled weight issues and has clashed with Spartans coach Tom Izzo, but he's finally showing just how dominant his left hand can be when used properly. He did so Saturday in Michigan State's 67-56 win over the Texas Longhorns. 

Nix poured in a career-high 25 points and had 11 rebounds and four steals in an incredible effort, guiding the Spartans to their 11th win of the season (11-2) and first over Texas (7-5) since 2008. When at his peak, Nix is one of the better rebounders in the Big Ten. At 6'9" and 270 pounds, he's also one of the most nimble bigs  in the league. 

Nix was nearly unstoppable against Texas. He went 7-for-10 from the field and 11-for-13 from the line. He took advantage of what Texas gave him. 

"I didn't get a scholarship here [MSU] because they wanted to give it to me," Nix told the Associated Press after the game (via ESPN). "I had to be doing something right. Today, they didn't double-team. I hit my first shot and tried to dominate the rest of the day."

The consensus gripe about Nix is that he doesn't play up to the level he's capable of playing at on a regular basis. For the past three years, the Spartans haven't been quite sure which Nix they'll get each night. 

However, Nix gave plenty of reasons to expect more this year. Nudged into the leader role after Draymond Green graduated, Nix has enough experience and know-how to anchor Michigan State, especially when playing physical teams. 

And the Big Ten will be physical, as usual, this year. 


Nix Brings Strength When He's Consistent

Michigan State never really has a true center. Other than Paul Davis, there are maybe two others from the Izzo era that could be considered as such. Nix isn't a true center.

But don't tell him that. 

He can bang with the best of them in the paint. He's a load to handle, and he has just enough finesse to make things interesting. Michigan State has an opportunity to score. 

Against Texas, Nix's approach was rather simple: Get his back to the basket. Nix was efficient, maybe too efficient. After Saturday's parade of lefty layups, Spartans followers will expect the same thing for the rest of the year. 

If Michigan State were to get Saturday's Nix—or something close to that—it would have no problem making a sustained run in March. 

Guards run the show in East Lansing. But the Spartans will need Nix to reach the heights he's (been) capable of reaching. 

Now, the naysayers will cite how Texas lost to Division II Chaminade and how the 2-3 defense shut down Nix later in the game. Well, the part about the defense is true. Michigan State found other ways to score, via Adreian Payne and Keith Appling. 

But 25 points, 11 rebounds and four steals speak for themselves.


Why Is Nix So Frustrating to Follow?

Izzo has never had a problem voicing his opinion about Nix. The coach sees the potential, but he can't physically make Nix perform. He can only call him out and hope he responds. 

Izzo said the following in reference to Nix after beating Texas (Associated Press, via ESPN):

Nix and I have a love-hate relationship; I love to hate him sometimes. He gets frustrated with himself sometimes, too. One of the hardest things to do is take criticism. But he has grown up a lot.

Nix's up-and-down relationship with Izzo baffles those who follow Spartans basketball. Nix may be one of the hardest-headed players Izzo has had. The fact that Nix has "grown up a lot" bodes well for Michigan State. 

Not only is that great for Nix on a personal level, but it's important for Michigan State, a team with little else past Nix and Adreian Payne when it comes to "big men." 

Nix's career has been marked by inconsistencies. There were nights that he couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat.

There are nights when he's playing efficiently in the paint and knocking down shots. 

And then there are nights like Saturday...wait, that's not true. Saturday was the first time Nix exploded on offense since he came to Michigan State. I mean really exploded, not a 15-point, eight-rebound stat line. 


Follow Bleacher Report's Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81