Nebraska came into the Breslin and stunned the number nine ranked Spartans on their home floor. Not many people predicted this upset, and it’s a costly one for the Spartans in the Big Ten title race. With Michigan losing earlier today a win would have put Michigan State into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten. Give credit where credit is due, Nebraska came into a tough environment and took it to the Spartans. They hit big shots at crunch time, and played great defense holding the Spartans to 51 points, 34% shooting, and 21% shooting from three on their home floor. After the game, Nebraska coach Tim Miles said on the victory, “I’ve only been here a year and half but for us, obviously, it’s a marquee win. It’s really important. I think there are certain moments in time that you have to define yourself. I really believe in this group.” It was a huge win for Nebraska and could be the big win that propels them into the NCAA tournament. Izzo credited Nebraska for their win, “Nebraska, they were junkyard dogs. They remind me of some of our old teams. They took it at us. They talked it, they walked it, they played it. I thought they were tough. I thought they played well defensively. I think they made some incredible shots. I think Tim (Miles) is one of the great new coaches in this league and he did a hell of a job.”
Petteway was better than Harris:
Petteway was the best player on the floor today, even better than Harris. Petteway dominated their matchup, and he was definitely a key for the upset. Neither player sat out more than two minutes, or shot an exceptional percentage. Harris stayed in his shooting slump, going 5-15 from the floor and 1-7 from beyond the arc. Although he struggled shooting, he finished with 18 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists. Tim Miles said after the game on Harris, “We pray that he doesn’t come out of the slump against us. We just defended him as hard as we could. We put a big body guy on him – Terran Petteway. You look at Petteway, he carries the offensive load, he guards Harris most of the night and really did a good job on him I thought.” Obviously Miles thought Petteway played a heck of a game against Harris and deserves a lot of the credit for the surprising win. Petteway went 7-17 from the floor and 4-10 from beyond the arc to finish with 23 points and 5 rebounds.
Petteway’s dominance of the matchup cannot truly be understood by the box score, he completely dominated the last nine minutes of the game. He hit dagger three after dagger three, but you can’t blame the defense on that. Sometimes it’s just good offense, he hit three’s fading away over Payne, and you just can’t stop that. It was Petteway’s day, and in the last nine minutes he scored 14 points, 14 of Nebraska’s final 16, to make sure it was Nebraska’s day as well.
Deep bench for the Spartans:
Izzo went 11 deep today. Maybe 4 too many? For sure two too many, Byrd and Gauna combined for nine minutes. They weren’t a very productive nine minutes, combining for: 0 points, 1 assist, and 2 rebounds. That’s nine wasted minutes that could have gone elsewhere. Byrd especially, maybe Gauna can rebound or effect shots with his big body, but Byrd doesn’t even shoot, and he’s known to be a deadly shooter. I’ve never seen it. Ellis and Schilling also combined for 10 minutes and didn’t produce much. The difference between these two and the previous two I mentioned is that at least these guys are freshman and Izzo may be trying to develop them. Either way, if you play, you need to produce more than a combined: 0 points, and 1 rebound. If you add that all up, you get one wasted half of basketball. It’s tough to beat anybody when you have 19 minutes of nothing out there.
Frankly, I’m tired of people calling him the poor man’s Magic Johnson. He is far from anybody on the Showtime roster at this point in his development. I don’t remember Magic having many games with 4 turnovers and 1 assist. Valentine needs to quit trying to make the flashy pass and start making the fundamental pass. A 1:4 assist:turnover ratio kills your team, especially if it’s in the same game that you shoot 2-8 from the field for 4 points. All of this came in 34 minutes of action today for Valentine; he needs to be more solid handling the ball to help his team. However, he did snag 8 rebounds today for the Spartans.
Defense leads to offense:
Today, the Spartans really struggled on offense; they scored a sad 51 points at home against an unranked Nebraska team. Sometimes that bad offense starts on the defensive end. Izzo’s teams of the past loved to get out in transition and get some easy buckets, something a slumping shooting team needs to do. Seeing the ball go through the hoop will help the confidence of the shooters that can’t throw the ball in the ocean right now.
Today, Michigan State only forced 5 turnovers, and it wasn’t Wisconsin they were playing. The defensive pressure needs to step up. They also only had 2 steals. This compared to Nebraska’s 7 steals and 11 forced turnovers. However, this isn’t completely concerning for Michigan State; Appling played today but was limited still coming back from injury. Izzo said of Appling, “(We didn’t decide) when (Travis) Trice got in foul trouble. We decided after warm-ups that we were going to try and play him some. He tried to do what he could do, but when you don’t practice for two, two-and-half weeks, when you’re not a skill guy it’s easier, but if you’re a skill guy, it’s a little harder.” I expect when he gets his full minutes back they will improve defensively. After the game Izzo accounted some of the defensive struggles to his missing players, “The second part is when you have a healthy Keith Appling, he’s one of the best defenders in this league and a healthy Brandon Dawson is the second-best defender on this team. Gary Harris is somewhere here in there between second and third. Two of those guys were missing in action and we’re not as good defensively without them.” Appling is a much better defender than Trice, and in my personal opinion the combination of Appling and Harris makes for the best defensive backcourt in the Big Ten. Their defensive prowess is why the team was still able to find success with Payne and Dawson sidelined but seem to be struggling a little bit more without Appling at full strength.
Izzo took responsibility for the loss today. He stood up for his players and showed the necessary leadership to win big in March. After the game Izzo said, “We got what we deserved and the only guy that takes the blame for that is me. It’s my job to get them ready to play and we didn’t look ready to play. For that, don’t blame them, blame me.”
On Gary Harris’s slump, Izzo said, “He’s in here morning, noon and night shooting. I don’t know what you do. It’s not what I do, it’s what he does and all I can tell you is he’s working on it. We’re just going to keep going to him, because he is what he is.” It’s a positive sign that Harris is working on his game and trying to get out of his slump. It’s expected though from a good kid like Gary Harris. It also must be a joy for a star like Harris to play for a coach that trusts his player enough to keep going to him. Izzo knows Harris must play well for this team to be successful in March.
After the game Izzo discussed the possibility of the roles changing for some of his players when Appling and Dawson return, “Well I don’t know if their roles change, but I think they revert back to how they were. Denzel (Valentine) rebounded well, but the turnovers early really hurt us. Travis (Trice) played 24 minutes, but had to sit nine or 10 minutes in the first half because of the foul trouble. That really set us back, too. I don’t see anything really changing a lot in terms of our role players. We just have to get our star players back. There is a reason our role players are role players.” I’m sure Izzo will be ecstatic to get a couple of his star players back. It may limit the minutes of some guys that are receiving a lot of minutes now, but all the minutes they are receiving will help their depth come NCAA Tournament time.
MSU looking forward:
Appling is back on the court, but not at full health. He only played 19 minutes today, but he will slowly be getting back to full strength. Dawson is still sidelined, but as I said before, I think he will come back the Michigan game. The Spartans’ next three games are at Purdue on Feb. 20, at Michigan on Feb. 23, and vs Illinois in the Breslin on Mar. 1. Three very winnable games for Michigan State.
With Michigan losing this afternoon too, look for the matchup this weekend against Michigan to be for the Big Ten title. Michigan has been struggling as of late, so hopefully the Spartans can take advantage of that slide and bring the Big Ten title back to East Lansing. It’s going to be a good one this weekend.