EAST LANSING - Tom Izzo is reverted to a common refrain in the Spartans' first practice since losing to Miami on Wednesday night.
Izzo wants better defense, better effort and a consistent rotation.
Not much is new in those regards, but the objects of his attention have changed a bit.
For one, sophomore Branden Dawson will be under a little more scrutiny.
Dawson had 11 points in 21 minutes on 5-of-7 shooting, but he caught some flack for not playing hard enough within team concepts away from the ball.
"Dawson has to learn how to play harder," Izzo said. "That is a big one. I think that maybe is the most important thing - playing harder and not turning the ball over."
Izzo felt the team made progress in avoiding turnovers at Miami. But intensity was strangely missing.
"We came out in the second half and didn't play with the same intensity, and they (Miami) hit some shots they hadn't been hitting," Izzo said. "But I thought that we just did not execute on offense."
Dawson will be moving from the wing to power forward in the starting lineup for Saturday's game against Nicholls State (12 p.m.) He will replace Adreian Payne or Derrick Nix in the starting lineup as Izzo wants to play with more quickness and athleticism at the four. But Dawson has to provide that quickness and athleticism with better effort.
"A couple of key guys have to play harder and learn how to play harder and yet I keep going back to: How much is it Dawson's physical ability? How much of it is being out of synch for seven months? And how much of it is not going hard enough?" Izzo said. "So he has a little pressure on him this week. He's going to have to pick it up."
Dawson last started at the four in the Boise State game a week and a half ago. But Gary Harris went down with a shoulder injury in the first minute of that game, and Dawson had to go back to the wing.
"That was one of the problem with the two injuries (to the guards) because we didn't work with Dawson at the four the whole week after that because we didn't think we would have Trice or Harris," Izzo said. "So the beat goes on, on why it's been a little bit more confusing and hard for me, but I have to quit worrying about that and play with the cards I'm dealt and play with them. Maybe I gave my guys a little excuse about being fatigued. There will be no fatigue tomorrow and there will be no fatigue the rest of the way."
Ball screen defense was substandard against Miami's excellent guard play and range-shooting power forward. "We didn't handle those ball screens, so we worked on that today and I think we'll do a better job," Izzo said.
Izzo was not happy with the way his players adhered to game plans and scouting reports, as to which Hurricanes to get out on and whom to sag off of.
"It was a poor job maybe on my part of getting it through to them on who and what and that made a difference," Izzo said.
"A big difference was three scramble threes that they got," Izzo said. "It was unbelievable. Normally they don't shoot like that, and they hit three of them and that's nine points so that's the difference in the game. There were two right in a row within about :20 seconds and that made a big difference; we could have been up nine or 10 at halftime. But that (Miami) team will win a lot of games."
Trice Harris, Feeling Good
Travis Trice and [dg]Gary Harris[/db] participated fully in practice on Friday after getting back in the lineup on Wednesday. Trice had been out for more than two weeks with a concussion. Harris missed more than a week with a shoulder injury.
"Trice is dying out here right now as far as conditioning-wise," Izzo said. "He had 15 days off.
"Gary didn't lose that much in conditioning. The arm bothered him none."
Shrinking Playing Group
Izzo indicated that he wants to reduce the playing group. Dawson, freshman guard Denzel Valentine, sophomore forward Russell Byrd and sophomore wing Brandan Kearney are on notice. Izzo wants them to play harder and more efficiently.
"Guys are going to work their way back in in practice, not in a game," Izzo said. "Until a couple of guys work their way back, either shooting the ball or how hard they go, we'll shrink it and then expand it, but we are going to get a little more consistency and continuity to what we're doing."
Izzo said some players received more playing time than they deserved, based on circumstances.
"Guys didn't earn (playing time), they were given things," Izzo said. "But as I keep reiterating, when you have two guys out like that you don't have much choice sometimes."
Byrd's struggles with range shooting (3 of 18 from 3-point land) and turnovers have affected his confidence, and Izzo's confidence in him.
Kearney took a step backward at Miami, losing his man on defense twice during crucial junctures.
Kearney and Dawson didn't run their transition lanes as well as Izzo demands. As a result, Dawson is moving from the three to the four as his primary position. Kearney is also in need of a bounce-back game.
"Kearney, Valentine and Byrd, those three guys have to do what they can do instead of trying to do something they can't do," Izzo said. "And if that happens, then I'd have the depth to go back to what I'd like to do."
Byrd played only two minutes against Miami. In an effort to help Byrd out of his slump, Izzo instructed Byrd to take more shots from closer in. But Byrd's first and only attempt was from three feet beyond the 3-point line. Izzo didn't approve.
Izzo pointed out that MSU's best game this year was the victory against Kansas. Byrd played just three minutes in that game and Kearney, who had been out with a mouth infection and a minor abdominal injury, played just seven minutes.
Ideally, Izzo would like to play a 10-man group, with several receiving double-digit minutes. But he is retreating from that ideal and plans to play only those who are giving strong effort and playing efficiently.