December 16, 2013

MSU Hoop Feed: Harris practicing, Dawson improving

EAST LANSING - Michigan State's important parts aren't close to being back in working order but the Spartans are farther along than they were 10 days ago.

  • Gary Harris returned to practice on Sunday, after being sidelined for more than a week with a recurring ankle sprain. He immediately raised several facets of the team up a level, Tom Izzo said on Monday.

    As for Tuesday's game against North Florida (5-6), Izzo said Harris is "questionable-doubtful," but progress is being made.

  • Izzo says junior forward Branden Dawson has shown consistently strong effort in practice since the double-digit loss to North Carolina on Dec. 4.

  • Senior center/forward Adreian Payne has continued to progress from an early-season bout with plantar fasciitis and is showing no ill effects after a 20-point, 10-rebound game in the 67-63 victory over Oakland on Saturday.

  • Sophomore center Matt Costello is back home in Bay City with mononucleosis. Izzo says a return to good health is "still weeks away," but Izzo is optimistic that time spent at home will expedite the process as much as possible.

  • Guards Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine struggled against Oakland. They combined to shoot 2-of-15 from the floor. But Izzo isn't worried about a prolonged slump for either player.

  • Meanwhile, senior guard Keith Appling continues to provide consistent answers offensively. Appling scored 21 points against Oakland and was 3-of-4 from 3-pout range.

    No one benefited more from Harris' return to practice on Monday more than Appling.

    "That's because Gary runs that lane maybe better than anybody we've had since Ager and Brown, and we've missed that," Izzo said. "I think we have done a poor job of running when he has been out."

    Izzo liked the way Appling pushed the ball in practice and the head coach is hoping for a return toward a better transition game in the days ahead.

    But Harris' absence and health problems haven't been the only thing that stalled an MSU transition game that looked outstanding earlier in the year.

    "When Gary has been out, Payne hasn't been the same either," Izzo said. "And Costello was the best on our team at running that middle lane, and that opens things up for the wings, like Trice and Valentine. And Gary is the best on our team at running on the lane.

    "If we can get three guys back practicing now with Keith, AP and Gary, I think it changes this team a lot.

    "Monday's practice was just different."

    As for Costello, Izzo said more tests were conducted on Monday, but Izzo isn't expecting any miracles.

    "With mono, everybody tells me it's three to four weeks," Izzo said. "I think he has an advantage in that he has been home. He hasn't even been here. He has mom, cooking and sleeping all day compared to going to class all day and I think his chances of getting over it faster are better. It's not like there is medicine you can take for it. But that still weeks away, in my observation."

    Izzo Watching Dawson Closely

    Ten days after being benched in the loss to North Carolina, Dawson had his RPMs back up to a winning level at Oakland. Dawson wasn't always refined and polished against Oakland, and he missed a few box-out assignments, but he had 16 points and a team-high 13 rebounds.

    Izzo is aware that Dawson's pattern has been to break through with a spirited performance, and then lose his spark and catch the wrath of the coach all over again. Izzo is trying to take measures to ensure consistent hellishness from Dawson.

    "I just gave him a sheet of paper and it said '10 days,'" Izzo said. "I've seen 10 days since that (North Carolina game) when he has practiced and played better, with more aggression and if you listen to the experts, they say it takes 21 days to become a habit.

    "At practice on Monday he was off the charts. So I just gave him a sheet that says 10 days down, 11 to go. And tomorrow it will be 11 days down and 10 to go. And we'll see if we can just push through that.

    "Why does that (inconsistent effort) happen? It happens to a lot people. It's maintaining. You revert back to the fact that you have never had to play as hard to get down what you needed to get done. With Morris Peterson, the light went on late. Talking to Dwayne Stephens about Dwyane Wade and how he was. The light goes on different for everybody.

    "It's not that B.J. is defiant on it. Maybe we have done a better job after that North Carolina game. He watched film after film of what I thought he was doing. Maybe the light is going on. I know the athleticism is coming back. I know he realizes you don't have to have plays called for you. He's just so much more active.

    "How do we maintain it? It's something we're doing every day. Every night, I'm texting him. Every minute of the day I'm having somebody call him. I'm making him see it. And I've told other players they have to hold him accountable because I told them peer pressure is the best. I thi

    Despite Dawson's inconsistencies, he is averaging 10 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. His 60 percent field goal accuracy is tied with Costello for the best on the team. He ranks second in the Big Ten in rebounding.

    Izzo on Harris' health progress:

    Izzo Calling On Schilling

    Freshman power forward Gavin Schilling has not made much of a dent in the playing group since Costello and Payne have battled health problems. In fact, his role was reduced to the point of playing only three minutes at Oakland.

    Izzo is pushing the 6-foot-9, 240-pound Schilling to rise up the rest of this month, beginning with Tuesday's game against North Florida.

    "I think it's the most important time for Schilling," Izzo said. "I keep saying we have to get him more minutes. I haven't done a great job of that. Some of it is situations, some of it is Schilling and some it has been me.

    "I would like to make a concerted effort in this next game to make sure we get him in there."

    At face value, it might seem like health problems on the interior should have opened up opportunities for Schilling, but Izzo said Payne's issues created lineup imbalances.

    "It's hard when you don't know if A.P. can practice and then you can't have two non-shooting bigs in there, and that hurt us with preparation," Izzo said.

    Schilling is a non-shooting big. When Payne needed a rest, that opened up an opportunity for redshirt freshman Kenny Kaminski, who is a good shooter. But Kaminski is suspended indefinitely for what Izzo indicated was an academic matter.

    Now, Schilling needs to rise again.

    "With A.P. looking like he is going to be back on a full-time basis, I've got to get Schilling some minutes," Izzo said. "I think he could be the guy in the Big Ten season that could make a difference in there because of his ruggedness, his rebounding and everything. And that will be the goal today, tomorrow, the rest of this week."

    Izzo expected Schilling to become a major contributor in the playing group. He impressed coaches with his rebounding ability and lateral movement in September and October. But he has been slowed to a crawl lately.

    "He is a very, very intelligent kid, maybe not quote as intelligent basketball-wise as he is book-smart," Izzo said. "I keep going back to the fact that he has had four coaches in five years, so there is no base. He is used to doing things so many different ways. I think that has been his biggest setback.

    "As quick and athletic as he is, he has become robotic because he has had to think all of these things he never had (to think about). He hasn't had a poor base, but he just had so many different people telling him different things because of the different coaches. It's different than the average cat.

    "I think he thought he was going to come in and be able to do this, this and this and all the sudden he tries to shoot too quick, he tries to do things that you could do in high school that you can't do with bigger guys. Instead of figuring it out, it has frustrated him. And now in the last week or two he is a lot more at peace with himself and starting to figure it out.

    "I do think he is going to make big strides. It's so important that we practice with the guys that we are going to play and get a rotation."

    Blurred Lines

    Valentine struggled with 0-of-7 shooting against Oakland, including 0-for-4 from long range. Izzo didn't like Valentine's shot selection.

    Izzo felt the NBA court, with two 3-point lines - one for college and a longer one for the pros - messed with Valentine's on-court landmarks.

    "We looked at all the games when we had the double lines and pulled all the three-point shots, we're getting screwed up, and that's a two-and-a-half foot, sometimes three-foot difference in where they are shooting. I kept asking, 'Do you know where you are on the floor?' You look at the film and I'll bet 80 percent of the shots he took were not good shots, and they were quick and they were from distances.

    "If you looked at that film, he is taking NBA three after three after three," Izzo said. "That's not his game. It wasn't his game in high school."

    Part of the problem, Izzo said, is he believed Valentine was trying to do too much in Harris' absence.

    "What I worry about with Valentine is that when a guy is out another guy comes in and tries to be the guy that went out," Izzo said. "In other words, he is not Gary Harris, but he is Denzel Valentine. He doesn't score like Gary, but Gary doesn't pass like Denzel and rebound.I just think he got caught up trying to serve what he thought the team needed.

    "I thought Denzel and Travis struggled but I think one of the reasons they struggled is they didn't know if they were starting or not starting, and they didn't know what was going on during the week because we didn't know who we had and all the sudden their role changed. It's an adjustment to make. They'll get back. They have been playing very well off the bench. I still might end up starting both of them but at least they'll know.

    "There was nothing going on that makes me worry long-term.

    "In that game, we did some good things and some very average things and when your two shooters go 2-for-15, and Travis has been shooting the lights out, I don't think you are going to look very good.

    "It was a combination of things.

    "I still think we have to get the ball into the post more, which I thought Adreian did a better job of in the last game. And I think we have to rebound better, which I thought we did a better job of in the last game. I still think we have to defend a little better and I totally took the blame for that a week ago. We are going to get more aggressive. We are going to foul more, if that's what it takes.

    "I'm trying to keep everything in perspective. I think the biggest thing is we need to get everybody healthy before we get happy, and just having three guys back in there yesterday made a difference."

    Izzo On North Florida

    North Florida has some size and athleticism, and no fear factor, Izzo says.

    "I told Dane Fife that when he was at IPFW and we were playing teams like that, we were the only (name) team that the played.

    "Now because of the money those teams can make, those $90 to $100,000 paydays, they come here and the awe factor of, 'I'm playing Michigan State or Indiana, Ohio State or Florida,' is not like it was a few years ago because now these teams are playing three or four of these teams.

    "So what happens is if they start off good, they feel they can play with you.

    "North Florida is different than Oakland. Real big. They will go 6-1, 6--6 at the guards, 6-8, 6-7, 6-11, a little bit like Carolina, a lot of big guys, a very athletic team. Maybe not as many shooters as some of the teams we have played. Definitely one of the most athletic teams we will have played."

    North Florida's results against major conference teams:

    Florida 77, North Florida 69

    Ohio State 99, North Florida 64

    Alabama 76, North Florida 48

    Indiana 89, North Florida 68

    North Florida also has losses to Middle Tennessee State and Southern.

    North Florida has two victories over Savannah State, in addition to wins against Arkansas-Little Rock, Webber International and Edward Waters.

    "I still think the game is more about how we play and I look forward to getting back on track," Izzo said.

    Izzo on the progress of Alvin Ellis, and the hunt for a quality transition team:

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