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The Weekly Spartan Nation Big Ten Basketball Report!

The Spartan Nation Basketball Report

The Dawson Blossom

In the first moments after Branden Dawson slipped badly on the center logo of the Carrier Classic, no one knew exactly what to expect from his Freshmen year.  Fortunately for the Spartan’s newest 5-Star talent, the slip and fall wasn’t as bad as it looked. And from that point forward, Dawson started work on a “star in the making” kind of year.

Nothing comes too easy in the Big Ten these days, however, and Dawson didn’t really light things up immediately though he showed early flashes of becoming something special. “He’s starting to come into his own (now),” Tom Izzo told Spartan Nation, “…(and) starting to play better Defensively.”

For a program built on Defense and Rebounding, Dawson came in with half the equation worked out pretty well. Izzo made no secret that the Gary (IN) product was one of the better rebounders ever recruited to Michigan St. in the modern era. But almost always with Freshmen, and even the McDonald’s All-American type, Defense is an extended work in progress.

“He came from not being able to defend to defending pretty well (in a short time),” Izzo explained. With the improvement on the back end, he’s earned more playing time to develop things up front. Yet, Big Ten teams have quickly taken notice of Dawson’s powerful and slashing moves. They’re fast becoming a staple of his game. When he’s not darting through space to get to the rim, Dawson’s learning to put himself in better position to snatch away Offensive boards and finish off possessions with something explosive. 

His Sunday performance against Purdue should set the table for many good things to come. It’s no secret that there remain feelings between Dawson and the Boilermaker people. We saw some of that during the game in East Lansing, and Dawson got what he expected from the Paint Crew in West Lafayette that afternoon. 

“Before the game I actually tried to call Scott Skiles because I remember how hard it was on him going there (Purdue),” Izzo recalled. “It’s just part of when you come from a different state.” But rather than shrink up into a ball or come out and lose control, Dawson used the hostile environment to fuel his best effort of the year. “I love the way he handled himself…business like, which means he’s growing up a bit,” Izzo remarked. 

And then there was the dunk. You know the one, because it reminded you of Jason Richardson’s behind the head-reverse-hammer-put back at Arizona more than 10 years ago now. Dawson has explosive hops like Spartan Nation hasn’t seen since that All-Time great dunker. Maurice Ager had flight, and Shannon Brown had power, but no one has jumped as much like JR as Branden Dawson has thus far. 

He’s also got a bit of a Raymar Morgan look to him as well, prompting some to present Dawson as a nice Richardson-Morgan hybrid model. “Those two guys (Richardson and Morgan) I think would be right there (to compare him with),” Izzo agreed. And as he carves out his own niche and his own game, he may end up more like yet another famous Spartan Small Forward. “He doesn’t shoot it like a Morris Peterson, but he’s a slasher and a rebounder like Morris was.”

Dawson’s got a long road to becoming another Spartan legend, but he has made early progress since his scary slip on the ship. “We’re just starting to see the emergence of Branden Dawson, and rightfully so, because he’s worked his tail off,” Izzo concluded. If he keeps improving during these final weeks of the Big Ten season, Sunday’s effort against Purdue will go down as his big beginning statement.   

Painting the 2012 Spartans Green

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Matt Painter and his crew have now played the Spartans twice, and lost twice. The first was a Breslin Center thrashing in late January, and the second featured probably the best Boilermaker Half of the entire season. Unfortunately for Painter, his team ran out of gas at Halftime and was housed by 19 points in the final 20 minutes. 

Last year Purdue got the Spartans by 10 at home early, and by 20 in a late February Breslin meltdown for the ages. Painter is therefore quite qualified to explain the vast difference between those two Spartan squads. “Last year I didn’t think they had a great team. I thought they had great pieces, but they didn’t play together,” he summed up. 

Painter also pointed to the Spartans’ clear and undisputed leader, Draymond Green, who doubles as the key ingredient to a major theme of this season…Everybody Loves Draymond. “I think its Draymond Green’s team…that might be the biggest (difference).” 

As we discussed before the year began, the Spartans would go no further than Green could lead them. But this team had to take his lead, and thus follow the catchy theme. Painter and the rest of the Big Ten are realizing the Spartans have.

“He’s a great guy, he’s a great leader...he wants the ball in clutch situations,” Painter pointed out. “He doesn’t necessarily have to take the (final or key) shot because he can make the decision.” That’s not always the case, the 7th year Head Boiler explained. “A lot of times guys that can make shots, not necessarily can make the decisions. He can…and he about had a triple-double against us.”

Because of Green’s Basketball IQ and play making ability, he can get the ball in the best position to make “the shot” late in big games. But he’s not the Spartans’ lone threat. “They’re better on the interior (too),” Painter admitted, while noting that Green is the best rebounder in the league. “When (Derrick Nix) plays like he did against us in the 1st Half and demands the ball like he did, that’s a tough matchup.” 

It all added up to more than Purdue could handle in their shorthanded and now tumultuous 2012 season. But Painter knows it’s not just his team that’s having a tough time playing Michigan St. again. “They played like Big Ten champs against us…and that’s what you do on the road. It gets a little tight, your Seniors step up and make plays…and they were able to do that (in the 2nd Half).”

The Spot up 3:Â Three Quick Basketball Points to Dribble Around With

1.     Tom Izzo mentioned that as Keith Appling gets better dealing with ball screens, you may see more “Drag” out of the Spartan Offense. What gained wide attention before the 2011 season as a potential evolution of the Offense hasn’t been completely abandoned, though it has been somewhat forgotten by observers.

2.     It’s far from over, but if the Spartans run the table through the end of this February, it may go down as Izzo’s best of the calendar year’s “short month” in his now longish career.

3.     Perhaps the hidden key to the Izzo-Spartans’ 6 Final Fours and 9 second weekend NCAA trips has been to become the “toughest out.” What matters most in the Tournament isn’t who has the best team, but who becomes the toughest to beat. That bodes very well for the 2012 Spartans, led by a guy who went National Title Gameà National Semi Final à 1st Round exit. One of those three results does not fit with the other two. Green’s set to reveal the answer sometime next month.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JPSpartan and inside the Phalanx Forum