November 15, 2012

Focus turns inward for Spartan basketball team

EAST LANSING - Playing a pair of games against quality opponents on two different continents in the span of four days has given Tom Izzo an unbiased read on where his basketball team is at during the first month of the 2012-2013 season.

With four consecutive games at home, the Spartans have some much-needed time to work on themselves before they go back out onto the road for a game at Miami for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Nov. 28.

Thursday's practice was focused almost entirely on the Spartans. Michigan State turned its attention to their next opponent, Texas Southern, at the tail end of practice.

"It was the first time in a long time we spent time working on our offense," Izzo said. "We really do need to do that more and hopefully that will be something we get better at because of it."

Izzo is pleased with the progress his team showed between the season opener against UConn and a win over No. 7 ranked Kansas four days later. But he believes his team has more to give.

"We played good, we didn't play great," said Izzo. "The good news is that I feel really good that we have so far that we can get. And yet, we need some practice time with everybody. It is hard to try and figure out that rotation when all of a sudden a guy that is going to play 20-some minutes a game is not with us. That is one of the issues that I still think we have to iron out in the next 10 days."

Travis Trice is still recovering from the concussion suffered he suffered during the second half of the season opener against UConn. The sophomore point guard will not play on Sunday.

"His thing is not great," Izzo said. "He can barely go to class. It is just a pretty good hit. They keep telling me that it is day-to-day, but it is nothing in the real near future. I've got a feeling it's one of those two-week concussions with a broken nose, so he won't be playing this weekend. I am 100 percent sure of that."

The improvement shown by freshmen Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine between the first and second games of the season helped Michigan State overcome the absence of Trice.

Harris scored 18 points and looked far more comfortable against Kansas than he had in his collegiate debut four days earlier.

"He looked more aggressive, he looked more like everything mattered to him as far as understanding what to do," Izzo said. "He is a great kid and he has done a great job. Call it what you want, nervousness, it doesn't matter. I think he got more aggressive. He watched the film and he did what a good player should do, he realized what his mistakes were and tried not to make the same mistakes twice. I think he did a pretty good job of that.

"I think we've hurt him a little bit by playing him too many minutes right now. He is really good defensively, and he has been just good. Part of that is playing the minutes and minutes in a row that he is playing."

Valentine led Michigan State with four assists again Kansas. The former Lansing Sexton star turned the ball over just once against the Jayhawks. But cutting down on turnovers continue to be a point of focus for the Lansing Sexton star.

"Denzel does a lot of great things," said Izzo. "He's just got to quit turning the damn ball over. If he doesn't, then we are going to play him at other positions. If he does, then I think he is going to be able to help us at more positions. He's got to do it and I think he sees it and he understands it. But I think he almost wants to prove that he can do it his way and that's not going to happen.

"He's got the ability. If he just plays within himself and doesn't try and go for home runs all of the time. Those were both simple passes and the lob out of the timeout that we set up for BJ (Branden) Dawson, we wanted him throwing it. But we almost predetermined where he was going to throw it."

  • Matt Costello is practicing full-time again. The 6-foot-9, 245-pound freshman center suffered a severe lower back bruise in late October.

    "As you can see, he moves," Izzo said. "A little slow, but he is definitely back practicing full-go now. His hip is not bad enough where it bothers him to get it bumped. But it is just that it is pretty stiff still, so he is not moving real fluidly. But he is not a real fluid kind of mover anyways so that shouldn't affect him any."

    Izzo would like to work Costello into the mix on Sunday against Texas Southern.

    "The problem is, it is such a small team," Izzo said. "How much are we going to be able to play two bigs in there, especially him. I am hoping that we get a chance to get some type of a pattern down on what we do. Before we do that, we have to find out who can play and he hasn't had a chance to play yet."

  • Defending the 3-point line will be a priority for Michigan State against Texas Southern. Guards Raymond Penn and Omar Strong have combined for 37 shot attempts beyond the arc. By themselves Penn and Strong have attempted 10 more 3-pointers through two games than the entire Michigan State basketball team.

    "It is an interesting game," Izzo said. "The two guards each take nine, nine and a half threes per game, so they are firing. It is a smaller team, so that could give us some trouble in some ways. But it is a team which hasn't been as good, so we've got to make sure we are playing it like we need to play it. Which means we are playing the game as much as the team."

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