Originally written on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 11/1/11

With the huge North Carolina game only 10 days away, every second of practice is incredibly important for Michigan State’s young team.  Tuesday, Coach Izzo worked his players hard, and wants to make sure they are prepared defensively.

The biggest things he stressed were communication, switching, guarding ballscreens, and transition defense.  He worked a lot of 3-2 zone into his practice, and was really getting on the youngsters.  There were some missed assignments, but the freshmen and sophomores are responding really well to Izzo’s criticism.

Branden Dawson will be given the unenviable task of matching up with Harrison Barnes, a likely top-five pick in next year’s NBA draft.  “We are going to be rattling his cage, morning, night and evening,” Izzo said about Dawson.  “He has the size and athleticism and hang in there, we just need to get him up to speed defensively.”  Dawson seems ready for the challenge.  “I’m really trying to get ahead of the game by watching film.  This is definitely a big thing to throw on a freshman, he could be the number one player in the draft.  Im going to come out, stay focused, and work hard.”

The player Izzo is hardest on in practice?  Travis Trice.  Given Izzo’s history as a point guard and his expectations for Trice, this is not surprising.  “I’ve been hard on him, overly critical to be honest.  At the same time, I think he has come along. He had a better practice today than he has been having.  Its all part of the learning process, he is trying to do so many things right now.  He has been better defensively than I thought he would be.”

The team seems to be moving the ball well.  There seems to be a decent flow to the offense, and the squad is loaded with unselfish players.  Dawson likes to create off rebounds, Appling is becoming more of a distributor, Wood never forces anything, and everybody knows Draymond’s passing ability.  This makes for a lot of pretty possessions and open looks.  Izzo made multiple mentions about how he is impressed by the teams passing and unselfishness.

For Friday’s scrimmage against Hillsdale Adreian Payne might get the start over Derrick Nix.  In a rare act of unselfishness, Nix actually suggested the idea to Coach Izzo.  The coaching staff thought Payne struggled a little bit, and Nix said that starting him on Friday might get him going.  Izzo enjoyed that.  “Nix has come a long way as far as caring about his teammates.”  He seems to be blossoming into more of a leader.

Other Observations

  • Appling missed a few open teammates and chances to swing the ball.  He is still working on his point guard skills and distributing.  Keith is also a defensive dynamo. “I think he has a chance to be the best defensive player in the league,” Izzo said.  He is significantly more vocal than he was last season, and is communicating with his teammates really well.  “He is coming out of his shell a little bit,” Coach Izzo said.  “We went trick-or-treating last night, and he was the life of the party.”  Izzo also confirmed that Derrick Nix gave all of his candy away to his teammates.
  • Brandan Kearney is VERY skilled.  He ran the point on the scout team, and more than held his own against the first-team.  He knocked down some contested treys, and looked good as a slasher.  I was impressed by his point guard skills. “I think I am a natural one, but with my size and wingspan I can move over to the two.”  He will definitely get some minutes at point guard next season.  Kearney is still raw and needs to add a lot of weight to compete in the Big 1o, but the skill-set is there.
  • Dawson and Payne were the guys out of position most frequently on defense, especially while they were playing the 3-2 zone.
  • Overall, I am very impressed with this year’s freshman class from a maturity standpoint.  All of them are polite, smart, articulate kids.  Coach Izzo really gets on their case, but they respond to it incredibly well.  They all have a lot of skills, mature games, and great work ethics.

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