When Tom Izzo grabbed the mic at Midnight Madness a few weeks ago, he opened with an unforgettable statement.
"You know last year I said I was finally going to dummy down the schedule, and that's why this year we are opening up with North Carolina and Duke," Izzo said sarcastically. While other teams open up the season by playing schools like the Hostess University Fighting Cupcakes, the Spartans continue to throw themselves into an early season fight year after year.
While scheduling teams that have the same talent level as the Detroit Pistons prepares them for grueling Big Ten play, it can bring their record down. This year's start is obviously no exception to seeing their record take a hit but, as crazy as it sounds, there were a few bright spots in the last two gloomy games.
Before we start to get too optimistic about the last two games, let's come back down to earth and look at what the Spartans need to work on.
What the Spartans Need To Improve
Like I said, there are some things to be proud about so far this year, but there are also some things that make green and white tears well up in my eyes.
Last year, it seemed as if the Spartans were trying to set the national record for turnovers, but they were unsuccessful. This year they are refocused and determined to make sure they turn the ball over at will, or at least that's how it seems so far. The 15 turnovers in the inaugural Carrier Classic can't all be blamed on the wind and ocean mist in the air.
The 21 giveaways against Duke says that either the ball was coated with Pam cooking spray, or the Spartans just can't control the ball. Turnovers destroyed Michigan State in too many games last year, and if they want to buckle down and make this a good season, they need to cut that number drastically.
Now, there is something that remains a mystery to me. I don't get how a 6'10" college athlete can miss so many layups in one game. I'm not going to single anyone out, like Derrick Nix for example, because it is a team effort. If the Spartans made half of their layups that they missed against both Duke and North Carolina, which was around 12, they would have made those games a lot more competitive.
Turnovers and easy layups are two of the biggest worries for the green and white, but there are some other areas that need improvement too. I won't go into detail about them, but here they are in a nutshell:
- Draymond Green needs to pass more and understand that he doesn't have to carry this team.
- The first ten minutes of the second half need to be played with more effort. Why does it seem like we play with three people during that time?
- Appling and Payne can't get into foul trouble early in games.
Why the Spartans Show Hope For This Year
Now that Debby Downer hour is over, let's take a look at what makes the Spartans a Big Ten contending team.
Since this is the birth of a new season, lets talk about the new players. The two new starters, Brandon Wood and Branden Dawson, have shown nothing but positives in the two games so far. Brandon Wood's leadership and offensive presence make it seem as if he has been a Spartan for the past four years. He is quick, can drive the ball to the rim with ease and has a knack for great passing.
Branden Dawson is not much different, except his defense is a tad better, and his rebounding skills are far superior. The fact that he is a freshman gives Spartan Nation hope for not only this season, but for the next four years as well.
Travis Trice also picked up some serious minutes in these two games, and he has grown into the system quickly. Against the Tar Heels, he was throwing up shots that made children cry, and went 1-8 in the game. When he went up against Duke, Trice seemed like a new player, shooting 2-3 from the field and playing with a better mind set. Turnovers aren't as low as fans would like to see, but as a freshman it isn't unexpected.
Another underclassmen that is showing great promise is Keith Appling. After playing in the shadow of his mentor Kalin Lucas last year, Appling is ready to be a star this year. Appling is leading the team in points and shooting percentage, making him the most dominate offensive player so far. If only he can iron out the number of fouls he commits, he can grab more minutes, which means more time for the Spartans to put some serious points on the board.
The new guys and Keith Appling are doing great so far this season, but there is still more to smile about:
- Good ol' Michigan State basketball seems to be back; running an up-tempo offense and playing physical on the boards.
- Adriean Payne is just flat out mean on defense (most of the time).
- Inexperienced players are learning quickly by playing top talent.