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1. Gary Harris is the real deal
Before his left shoulder injury against Boise State, Gary Harris proved to be the prototypical "fearless" wing player that Izzo loves. A guy who can not only stretch a defense, but also penetrate to the basket, draw fouls and score.
And while it took Gary a while to get going on the offensive end against Miami (He finished with 12 points, shooting 5-for-11 in 25 minutes), he contributed solid defense and had his best night on the glass to date (8 rebounds, 4 offensive).
After gaining that his injured shoulder would be fine, Gary began to penetrate the Miami defense late in game. Not only did he pick up a couple of 'and 1's", but he also had a put back slam (Yeah, yeah, I know the dunk came after the whistle, but it was a good sign none-the-less).
Harris is a stud.
2. Lineup Juggling
In our post game show, Tom Izzo was quick to point out that he may be finished (at least, for now) playing Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix together for long stretches.
I viewed last night's game as a chance for Derrick Payne (or Adreian Nix, whichever you prefer) to have a breakout performance against a similar Miami front line. But the duo combined for a meager seven points and ten rebounds in 56 total minutes (Nix 31 minutes, Payne 25).
The Spartans made a committed effort to get Nix the ball early in the first half, but he did not fair well against the 6-foot-10, 292-pound Reggie Johnson. It reminded me of his last match-up against a player with similar build, Joshua Smith, previously of UCLA.
Defensively, Michigan State's 'bigs' got beaten on screens regularly as well, leaving the guards out to dry.
So for MSU to run the court - as Izzo wants - there may need to be more versatility in the lineup. Moving Branden Dawson to the four would most likely accomplish that. Coach Izzo would then have the luxury to start either Denzel Valentine or Travis Trice alongside Keith Appling and Gary Harris (Imagine a fast break with four of those five on the floor).
And if you think that MSU's rebounding production would drop, think again. Valentine, Dawson and Harris have all proven to be valuable in that department as well, even on the offensive end (8 total versus Miami).
Meanwhile, Trice and Appling have proven that they can stretch the defense or create in the lane.
3. The Perfect Storm
It appeared that the Spartans were flat out tired. Yes, it's an excuse. But, a valid one. MSU has traveled over 12,000 miles in the month of November and just played in their fifth game over 11 days.
Conversely, Miami was playing just its second game in the last 12 days. On top of that, they have yet to leave the state of Florida this season.
The result? MSU appeared to be a step slow defensively all night long.
"You know, the penetration, we just did not cover the ball screens like we wanted to, like we worked on," Izzo lamented. "So that put a lot of pressure on our guards. We did not, did not, did not, do a very good job on that."
To Izzo's point, guard Durand Scott was able to drive at will in the first half, while Shane Larkin took his turn in the second. That led to close range buckets, free throws (16-for-18, 88.9 percent), and kick-outs to open shooters (Miami went 9-for-16 from long distance against MSU, after shooting 31.1 percent in the first four games).
Offensively, tired legs were evident in the second half as well. The Spartans had quite a few open looks in the final twenty minutes, but were still outscored 40-28, thanks to 11-for-30 shooting (36.7 percent).
Most notable was the missed dunk by Adreian Payne. A converted dunk would've cut the Miami lead to five with seven minutes remaining. Instead, following the defensive rebound, Miami hit another three-pointer to extend its lead to ten. Talk about a decisive five point swing!
The month of December will be important for the Spartans. Not only will they have a chance to get rested, but they will also be provided the opportunity to work on 'Michigan State Basketball', ensuring that Tom Izzo will be able to fix his rotation for the start of conference play.
By the end of December, Michigan State will be a very dangerous team.