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The Spartan Nation Basketball Weekly

The dancing bear is the key to the 2011 post season.  Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.

The dancing bear is the key to the 2011 post season. Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.




Getting Draymond Back to the “Dancing Bear”

Draymond Green was expected to be the most important Spartan Basketballer coming into the 2011 season. That’s not to say he’s the most valuable, as an argument can be won that without an effective Kalin Lucas, Green would be neutralized. But it is to point out that Green is the player that sparks the Spartans’ best play. While Lucas is the “straw that stirs the drink,” Green is the engine that makes the Spartans go. To a great extent: as Green goes, so go the Spartans.

Last Thursday, Green played at his highest level. He did the little things, and the big things. He excelled in the dirty work, but threw in some shine on the way to his first career “triple-double.” It was, the “old” Draymond, the “Dancing Bear,” as CBS’ Clark Kellogg first tabbed him. Spartan Nation hopes that Day Day the Dancing Bear back again to stay, for the rest of his career at Michigan St.

“Facilitates is a great word you just used,” Tom Izzo told Spartan Nation after being asked about Green’s virtuoso performance against Penn St. “I think what’s starting to happen (is) Draymond and Kalin are starting to play off each other a little bit more…some of those assists (from Green) are going to Kalin.”

As we discussed weeks ago now, if this team is going to get right this year, Lucas and Green have to be on the same page, more than anything else. When those two play together and within themselves, this can be a top 15 team. When they don’t, the Spartans look like a 1st round Tournament exit, at best.

“I think he (Green) did stay inside a little bit more (versus Penn St.),” Izzo agreed. “I think we can go through him when he’s in the low post, we can go through him when he’s in the high post.” Though in defeat, the Spartans did a lot more of that Tuesday night against Ohio St. And the most effective Spartan half-court attack tends to go through Green, just as it did in the past when the likes of Goran Suton, and even Paul Davis, trolled the middle for the Green and White.

“One thing he’s done a better job of that we really talked about last week with him was getting some of those tip-ins or offensive rebound scores, getting to the line, and all the things that we think he’s capable of,” Izzo explained. Those are exactly the attributes that make Green a difference maker, and the Spartans’ most important player. Without that savvy mix of “little things” and “big things,” Michigan St. can’t reach its potential.

The Spartans wouldn’t have reached the last two Final Fours without the Dancing Bear, and they won’t reach one in his last two tries if he goes back to hibernate again. “The last step now will be can he defend a bunch of different positions….that’s what really makes a guy versatile,” Izzo said. “That’s what’s going to be our challenge to him this week…He’s met 90% of our challenges, so we’re just going to hope he keeps it up.”

With the health of Delvon Roe always in question (but never his heart or passion), Green will have to attack that task if the Spartans are going to extend their consecutive streak of NCAA Tournament bids to 14. These Spartans are simply not good enough to go dancing again, without their Dancing Bear.

Red Shirt, or Red Flag?

“Red Shirt” has become somewhat of a shunned term in modern day College Basketball. In the era of college skippers like “the decision” and Kevin Garnett, and now with the “one and done” player too, who wants to Red Shirt? Fans often wonder “what’s wrong with ____ ____, he had to Red Shirt?” Yet, most of the time, there’s nothing wrong with hanging a Red Shirt. In fact, there’s usually more good that comes out of it than bad.

“It’s (Red Shirt) not a bad word, but I think it’s perceived as one,” Tom Izzo explained. “Ask Wisconsin, they’ve done it year in and year out, and ask us when we were really, really good…consistently.” Red Shirts of the past for MSU have included Morris Peterson, Goran Suton, David Thomas, and more who contributed to Championship runs in their day. Moreover, there have been a handful of others who could’ve benefited significantly from a Red Shirt year, but didn’t get to take one.

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This year, MSU has Red Shirted Russell Byrd (due to injury) and Alex Gauna (I know the pronunciation, but can we call him Iggy?). While neither player might have liked the idea of Red Shirting initially, all parties involved stand look benefit in the end. “Alex Gauna, I think, has utilized (the Red Shirt year) it a lot,” Tom Izzo feels. “I’m very pleased…He’ll be a big guy that can really shoot it, and that’s going to help us.” Until proven otherwise, Spartan Nation will expect Gauna to be in the mold of Goran Suton.

While Gauna might not have the natural Euro flavor that Suton once carried, his size and shooting skills away from the basket should be assets right away. Hopefully, Gauna will fast become the type of ferocious rebounder with a high basketball IQ that Suton evolved into over his five-year career. Though it’s hard to expect that much out of Gauna too soon, it’s not unreasonable to expect that coming of a Red Shirt, he’ll be ready to contribute come the latter part of next season.

“Unfortunately (Byrd) has only had three weeks that he’s been back practicing,” Izzo admitted about his Red Shirt Forward from Indiana. Byrd’s foot was arguably the key injury of 2011, if you count Lucas’ Achilles as a carryover from last year. Make no mistake, Byrd was needed to help replace Chris Allen. His absence on top of Allen’s dismissal has left a very large shooting gap. “There’s no question that just as a shooter alone, he could have helped us a lot.”

With the additional dismissal of Korie Lucious, the Spartans are now down two (or three if you count Allen) contributing players from where they expected to be coming into 2011. Byrd obviously won’t be replaced this season, yet Spartan Nation waits with anticipation to see what kind of player will hit the floor early next season.

“It’s still frustrating for him (Byrd) because he thinks he’ll just be able to do the things he used to do (in practices since coming back),” Izzo revealed. “But he’s now improving his defense, his passing, and the other parts of his game…and hopefully that’s what the next three or four weeks will be for him.”

Red Shirting should not be a bad word for College Basketball programs. In fact, this round of Red Shirts is going to help Spartan Basketball build depth over the next four years. One would think that since two Red Shirted this year, it’s now more likely that at least one player will Red Shirt next year. To have the luxury of Red Shirting a player or two each year is to have the luxury of building a deeper program with a better continuity. That’s hardly a Red Flag.

No Defense for the 3?

The Spartans haven’t been burned by their opponents’ 3-point shooting percentage this year, they’ve been scorched. As “The Weekly” has pointed out in the last two editions, MSU is near the bottom of the nation in 3-point Field Goal percentage allowed (currently 331st in the nation, 38.5% allowed). Like any stark irregularity, the Spartans’ shortfall hasn’t had only one root cause.

“A combination of things,” Izzo explained to Spartan Nation, “…none of them any good, by the way.” Never has Spartan Nation watched so many teams make it rain so hard from behind the arc. “Guys make shots that are shooting 12%, 17%, and all the sudden they’re hitting two and three-3s (in a spurt),” Izzo recalled. It’s left many scratching their heads and trying to account for luck, effort, or some kind of simple explanation. “Sometimes it’s the way we defended (teams) because of the scouting report, because of how they’d done (up to that point).”

But some of the opposing 3-point shooting performances have just been crazy! “I really do believe you hit on one, I mean…some of these know I watch Wisconsin shoot so good against us and then go 12% in the 1st Half against Iowa,” Izzo said, somewhat perplexed. Yet, it’s kinda hard to imagine that so many different teams would have their best 3-point shooting night in ages against these 2010 Spartans. There must be more to it, be it a systemic or individual weaknesses.

“I think some of it is, teams really have either gotten up or shot well against us…but we have to take probably 70% of the blame,” Izzo explained. Yet, the absence of two solid perimeter defenders and the defection of another during the middle of this season, with no real replacements, have left some gaping holes. “We lost two of our best defensive perimeter guys last year in Morgan and Allen, and then we lost Lucious, who is a pretty good defender on the perimeter, just because of his speed and quickness.”

As if losing three experienced defenders wasn’t enough, the loss of Byrd again has caused some pain, and the ongoing recovery of Lucas has only made defending the 3 that much harder. “In all honesty, half this year we haven’t had Lucas. If there’s a place he’s cheated off, it’s been defense…it’s not his fault, with the injury and everything.”

As we have tracked the last couple of weeks, and now the rest of the MSU media is also taking notice of, the Spartans’ 3-point defense must improve if they’re to make any kind of run to finish the season. During most college basketball games, a team will shoot well in one half, and poor in the next. Things usually seem to have a way of regressing to the mean. The Spartans’ 3-point defense is searching feverishly for that to start happening now, and fast. There’s a lot evening out to do when you’re ranked 331st in any national statistical category.

The Spot Up 3: Three Quick Basketball Points to Ponder

  1. The Foul disparity between the Spartans and Ohio St. Tuesday night should get your attention. At one point in the second half, the Spartans were called for 9 fouls to the Buckeyes lone 1. For the game: MSU 26, OSU 12! Ohio St. wasn’t physically dominant or quick enough to justify anywhere near that imbalance. There’s no good explanation for why that stat was so lopsided. It was the worst officiating performance of the year, and the Officials should be held accountable for it.
  2. The new Nike uniforms with the “shadow design” (behind the numbers) on the back of the jerseys have to go. They’re horrible, and take away from each uniform they show up on. They add nothing, and create a poor distraction. It’s a jersey, not a canvas where you can work in a little bit of themed art in negative space. Lose the silly shadow designs for 2012, Nike. And while we’re on the topic of uniforms, I still miss the new “State” logo on MSU’s Basketball jerseys.
  3. If a Hollywood movie is ever made about the life of Tom Izzo (talk about real entertainment), Dustin Hoffman would have to play the Spartans’ legendary Head Coach.

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