Every kid that grows up playing basketball dreams of playing in the final four, lighting up Madison Square Garden, and playing in the NBA. Gary Harris may be checking off all three of them in 2014. After today’s game verses Georgetown, Harris can definitely check off lighting up Madison Square Garden from his to do list. Harris put the Spartans on his back in the second half, finishing with a game high 20 points.
Despite Harris’ stellar performance, Georgetown was able to top the shorthanded Spartans. Without Dawson, MSU seems to lack toughness…probably the first time anyone has said that about a Tom Izzo coached team. MSU was outrebounded 36 to 42, a rarity for the Spartans under Izzo. However, this isn’t a complete surprise when the Spartans are missing their top 2 rebounders. Georgetown also led the Spartans in blocks and steals, another two areas Dawson excels at. Without their top post players, the Spartans were forced to shoot 29 three’s at a poor 31% clip. All the three point shooting led to Georgetown making more free throws than MSU shot, a stat no coach likes to see. Izzo isn’t a man to make many excuses, but without two of his best players it’s going to be tough to beat a program like Georgetown on a “neutral” site in the middle of the Big Ten season.
Don’t be too depressed Spartan fans; a non-conference game in February is more about tournament preparation than anything. The first thing the Spartans learned in this game is that the Byrd/Gauna experiment should be nearing an end for this season. Missing two key players is allowing other players to step up and improve at faster rates. First and foremost, Kenny Kaminski is getting the opportunity to play 23 minutes. He is learning on the fly how to rebound and play big time defense. Kaminski’s improvement in those areas is crucial for him getting playing time, and his shooting will be needed for a successful March. With a hobbled Appling and no Payne, Gary Harris is being relied on to carry the offensive load late in games. Harris is learning how and when to take over a game, something I believe the Spartans will need to make a deep tournament run. With 1:36 left in the game, Harris drove left and pulled up for three…nailed it! Wow, that sure was a thing of beauty, a shot nobody else in the country has proven they can make. Finally, without their two key post players, Denzel Valentine is being forced to play a bigger role for this team. To this point in Valentine’s career, he is a Cedar Point player, filled with peaks and valleys. Valentine makes a great play, and then makes a bonehead play, which explains why Izzo is visually frustrated with his play at times. Today, Valentine was able to play 35 minutes and lead the team in rebounding with 7 boards and chip in 11 points. It’s his 6 turnovers that will have Izzo beside himself as he watches the tape of the game. His extended minutes in games without Dawson and Payne will help Valentine learn to value the ball, and avoid key turnovers. A do-it-all type player like Valentine is a coach’s dream, but 6 turnovers can be the difference in a win and loss. Look for Valentine to make leaps and bounds improving in that area while Dawson and Payne are out.
Today’s game was a learning experience for the Spartans. Missing two key players is allowing other players to develop and find a comfortable role for this team. Their struggles now may lead to greater success in the end if the Spartans can field a completely healthy team come March. I know one thing, if they don’t end up being a one seed, no other one seed will want them in their bracket.