‘Tis the season, my friends, and as 2012 approaches, a few new items may be on Tom Izzo and the Spartans’ “Wish List.” With conference play starting soon, here are a few things that Michigan State will be looking to fine-tune in time for big, bad Big Ten play.
1. Continuing to Lead the Conference In Rebounding.
MSU is the Big Ten’s top rebounding team, and the Spartans are averaging a +10 rebounding margin over their opponents. Not only that, but Draymond Green is the conference’s leading rebounder averaging nearly ten boards a game. Rebounding is a facet of the game that Izzo has stressed many times with his past teams, and getting physical on the boards is a badge that this Spartan team can wear proudly and continue to do as they move into Big Ten play
2. Up the Team’s Free Throw Percentage
The Spartans are shooting 66 percent from the charity stripe, which is great considering it’s better than Shaq-like half and half accuracy, but like my high school basketball coach always said, “free throws win tight games.” A few missed points from the free throw line could be the deciding factor in an important game, such as a tight overtime battle against Wisconsin.
3. Stay In the Upper Half of Conference Stats
To beat the Big Ten’s elite, MSU needs to perform consistently like a top contender, and recent numbers have shown that they have that potential. Yes, their last few games have been against weaker non-conference foes, but the East Lansing squad ranks fourth in the Big Ten in scoring defense and second in both field-goal percentage defense and three-point field-goal percentage defense. That behind the arc defense is a major improvement from last season when the Spartans ranked a lowly 8th in the conference when it came to defending the perimeter.
4. Keep the Underclassmen’s Learning Curve Going In the Right Direction
With Draymond Green clearly cemented as this team’s leader, keeping the freshmen and sophomore progression moving in a positive direction is even more important. Sophomore Keith Appling’s transition to the point has been a new role that he’s seemed to adapt to more and more in these past few contests. He went from laying goose eggs in the assist column in the early season losses against UNC and Duke to recording a career-high eight assists in the Spartans’ win over UMKC. Fellow sophomore Adreian Payne has also improved steadily since his freshman campaign.
This season, he’s started 11 of the team’s 12 games and recorded his first career double-double against Texas Southern University. The big man on the block will be much needed to battle fellow Big Ten goliaths down low in the paint. Even fellow starter and freshman Branden Dawson, who was a 2011 McDonald’s All-American, has played a big role early on for Tom Izzo’s team. Hopefully his first slate of Big Ten game will have keep him riding high instead of hitting a freshman wall.
Michigan State kicks-off its Big Ten schedule at the Izzone on December 28th against the ranked and unbeaten Indiana Hoosiers. This should be a fun game to watch since both teams finished disappointingly last season in Big Ten play. Seems like this season may ring a different bell for the “Toms”— Tom Crean’s Hoosier Crew and Tom Izzo’s Spartans—during conference play.