EAST LANSING - Tom Izzo hated beginning the season 0-1 with the loss to Connecticut in Germany. But he has liked the bounce-back process thus far, heading into tonight's game against Kansas in the Champions Classic. Izzo on Nix: "Nix turned it over some, but boy he got some big time rebounds."
"What we got out of that game was watching film on the long flight home," Izzo said. "We are going to grow from it one way or another."
Michigan State fell from No. 14 to No. 21 in the rankings and is now a decided underdog against Kansas, last year's national runner-up.
"If we are that weak that we can't take a loss, or we can't take the mental anguish that goes with it, or the community (outcry) that goes with it, then we are not going to be a good team anyway," Izzo said. "I have no panic or anything right now. I'm just disappointed that we didn't play as well as I think we can. But I don't think I've given enough appreciation to moving guys to different roles and the impact that has.
"When I look at last year's team and this year's team I think this team is a better team, potentially. What we have is a lot of new people, or people in new roles. A.P. (Adreian Payne) is at a completely different position. Keith Appling has a completely different role than the one he had last year when we played through DayDay and now I play through him.
"Denzel Valentine and Gary Harris played the third and fourth most minutes on our team. They were snot-nosed high school guys at this time last year."
Izzo saw development from each of those players as the UConn game progressed. But too much damage was done too early as the Spartans fell behind by 16 in the first half. MSU battled back to take a 2-point lead late in the second half but couldn't close out the victory.
"We showed some resiliency in bouncing back and playing pretty good basketball the last 28 minutes of that game after just an incredibly horrifying first 12 minutes."
Back-Up Point Guard Concerns
Sophomore guard Travis Trice is questionable after sustaining a mild head injury in the Connecticut game.
"Very big question mark," Izzo said of Trice's availability. "As with concussion symptoms, they are always day-to-day. That looks like triple question mark at best."
With Trice not expected to play, Valentine and junior wing Brandan Kearney will take one back-up point guard responsibility, mostly Valentine.
Kearney played only six minutes against UConn due to a mouth infection. Last week, he missed the second exhibition game due to a groin pull.
"Brandan is back about 85 or 90 percent," Izzo said. "He'll have to play more. Valentine and Kearney are going to have to step up."
"We are going to be short a guy that played 20 minutes in the last game (Trice) and probably would have played 25," Izzo said. "Concerned? Yes. But it is time for a couple of freshmen to step up and for Kearney to step up and what better time than an opportunity like this?"
Costello Should Make Debut
Freshman center Matt Costello is expected to make his debut in an MSU uniform. He missed the two exhibition games and the UConn game due to a severe back bruise. Costello has been progressing nicely and should be available, and much-needed, against a team with a lot of size such as Kansas.
"Costello, I think will play some," Izzo said. "He practiced over the weekend. I watched him in drills last night. He gives us that strength and bulk we need against a Kansas. But how long can he got? He wasn't a great-conditioned guy to start with.
"He has more of a smash 'em attitude. It's just whether he can go very long right now. He might be able to give us two-, three-minute stretches.
"He is rusty because he hasn't played. But against their big guys, I think he is going to play some and hopefully help us some."
Why So Timid?
Izzo was surprised by what he called a deer-in-the-headlights look from some of his players, especially true freshman wing Gary Harris.
Harris's problems began from the opening possession when he blanked out on where he was supposed to be for the outset of the first scripted play of the game.
"I did not expect it from him and I don't think you'll see it again from him," Izzo said of Harris. "Harris did a very good job defensively. He just screwed up some things offensively just because that's what happens with freshmen when they get that look in their eye."
Harris wasn't the only one. Valentine missed an opportunity to feed Nix in the post with 1:11 in the game and instead forced a spinning shot near the foul line.
"I am not worried about Denzel's vision on things like that," Izzo said.
These were teaching moments.
Even juniors like Payne and Appling stumbled a bit in expanding their roles.
"Payne is not sure of himself as much," Izzo said. "We did not get the ball inside enough.
I could not figure out why we stood around so much. We watched a lot of film of us just standing around, doing nothing. That's not the way we practice. Then I start looking at the position guys played, or the time they had off, or playing some freshmen a lot of minutes and I guess some of it is to be expected.
"I don't think this team is cocky to where that (loss) knocks it out of them. But turning the ball over and giving up lay-ups off of them, I think that was a lesson.
"The reality check is if we had taken care of the ball alone, we win.
"There is good news that we had some guys do some things that we liked. Harris played better in the second half after a tough first half. I thought we pushed the ball decent. We scored a lot of points that way. The turnovers were in the halfcourt.
"With Harris bouncing back and playing more aggressively and Payne bouncing back after getting in foul trouble, I think there is something to build on."
No Change At The Four (Yet)
Payne struggled on defense on the perimeter at the power forward (four) position in exhibition games and versus UConn. Izzo replaced Payne at the four with Branden Dawson on both occasions. There were indications that Izzo might make season-long adjustments at the four. But on Monday, Izzo said that's not the plan just yet. Payne is going to get more chances to adapt to his new role of playing more defense farther away from the rim.
"Defensively, he has to play better," Izzo said. "The guy (for UConn) goes around him on the dunk and he looks like he is standing still. He is a better athlete than that.
"I don't think DayDay can guard as well as A.P. could. I think DayDay was a little smarter to not go out on a guy like that. A.P. is going to have to figure that part out."
Payne played exclusively at center in the second half, and found a rhythm.
"The second half he was a lot more aggressive, made a couple of plays, looked more like the guy I think he is," Izzo said. "That's all I talked to him about: We have to play a little smarter, a lot harder offensively. He just has to get into the post more."
Eventually, Izzo wants Payne to emerge as a face-up shooting threat at the four. Payne made a face-up 17-foot jumper off a pick-and-pop against UConn, while playing the five. That's something MSU wants to get from its four on a regular basis, off of the pick-and-pop or the roll-and-replace.
Dawson Showing Us Something
Dawson almost single-handedly kept MSU competitive in the first half, with terrific energy and physical power all over the court. His intensity carried over off the court in a way that surprised even his coaches and teammates.
"He might have had the highest energy level in the huddle and at halftime and all of that," Izzo said. "What is more interesting is that the players saw it. Alex Gauna said he has never seen even half of that from him (Dawson), half that animated, half that aggressive. Players saw it. I think B.J. saw it. I think he realizes that just being talented is not enough, but being talented with a motor can get you a lot of places.
"He's kind of been a Corvette without an engine. I told him if he ever gets that engine going then he is going to turn into everything he should be."
Izzo on Russell Byrd, who played 10 minutes: ""I think Byrd didn't play bad. The lineup we had, we just kind of got stuck. When you watch film of him, he did a pretty good job of what he had to do."
Izzo on MSU's 15 turnovers: "We have had issues with turnovers a few times the last couple of years but these ones - every one of them - had a lay-up involved with it. I think we counted seven to nine that were just bona fide dead lay-ups.
"They (UConn) shot 81 percent in the first 12 minutes then 30 percent in the last 28 minutes."
You know it's not your day when ... "When the German kid hits the 17-footer, he hasn't even hit that shot in his dreams much less reality," Izzo said.
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