All anyone could say who’s closely watched the Michigan State Spartans’ basketball team perform for the past four years is “it’s about time!”
On Saturday against the Texas Longhorns, big man Derrick Nix finally showed up in a big way, dominating a game from start to finish like he’s long been capable of doing. In Spartan Jump Shots, I had called on him to finally make an impact, and with 25 points, 11 boards and four steals mixed around numerous other important plays, Nix did just that and more, leading the Spartans to a big win over the Longhorns and boosting his team into Big Ten play.
This was a big moment in Nix’s development. No longer is he the fat kid not committed to losing weight, because he’s done that. No longer is he the player not serious enough about his team to make amends for mistakes. We’ve seen flashes from Nix before, but never much consistency. He’d lose weight but put it back on, and play some games passionately while disappearing for others. He endeared himself to teammates by appearing at a rally to encourage Tom Izzo to remain the Spartans’ coach in 2010, but also let them down last summer after a foolish mistake with marijuana. Due to all of this happening throughout much of his career, Nix has become one of the biggest anomalies in Michigan State basketball history.
Saturday afternoon, that changed. I’ve long contended that the easiest way to see if a player is engaged and determined is to watch his eyes. Nix had passion and fire in his eyes against Texas, and took over the game with a fierce approach at all times during the game. Draymond Green flipped that same switch during his junior year, and became a force in the Big Ten during his senior season. Nix, though the timing is much different, could be taking the same step.
The buzzword of the past 72 hours? Finally. Michigan State badly needs a statistical leader other than Keith Appling on the floor, and they badly need that player to be a senior. Being that Nix is the only person fitting that description, it was refreshing to see him assert his game. Best yet is the boost the team seemed to receive from watching Nix perform. Suddenly, Aderian Payne looked more confident in the paint, and the offense was facilitated crisper low to high. Some much-needed passion was injected as well, especially when Michigan State went on runs during the game. Everyone just looked more fired up at all times.
Entering a tough Big Ten slate which opens in Minnesota on New Year’s Eve, the Spartans needed their leader to start playing like one in a hurry. Nix did all of that and more to close last week, perhaps finally taking the last step towards rounding out and galvanizing his team.
Player Of The Week: Derrick Nix, Michigan State. It’s hard to not go with Nix this time around, especially after watching the impact he made against Texas. Think of how tough Michigan State will be to beat if they are able to get this same kind of consistently rugged performance from Nix and his entire team. Grabbing 25 and 11 had to feel good for the big man, and he finally had his moment in the sun. Now, consistency is the key moving forward into 2013.
Game Of The Week: Michigan at Northwestern. The Michigan Wolverines should firmly have their attention geared towards the Wildcats this week, as they will prove to be a bit of a challenge despite their current situation. In the past, games in Evanston have proven difficult for Michigan as well as other ranked teams no matter how Northwestern is playing, and the Wolverines must avoid getting lulled to sleep by a quiet atmosphere. Michigan State and Minnesota will be a fantastic match up and probably the better game, but this contest will let fans know if the highly ranked Wolverines are a serious contender in the Big Ten this season. If they are, they cannot lose focus in the first game against a team they should beat by double digits. If they’re not, they’ll fall apart right off the bat and wilt under pressure. From that standpoint, it’s the best match up to watch.
Stat Of The Week: 5, Michigan State’s current winning streak at Williams Arena in Minnesota, a strange feat in the rough and rowdy Big Ten, where road winning streaks are usually few and far between. The run has lasted since the Spartans’ last loss during the 2005-06 season. In the past several years, Michigan State has won in every single way against the Golden Gophers in “The Barn.” They’ve won ugly games, close games and even blowout games. This season, 11th ranked Minnesota will put this particular run to the test with their underrated squad. The Spartans’ best effort of the year will be needed to come out with win number six.
#2 Michigan 12-0 (0-0 Big Ten)
#19 Michigan State 11-2 (0-0 Big Ten)