No. 19 Spartans host Arkansas-Pine Bluff in nonconference tilt
Junior guard Keith Appling goes up for a shot during the game against Nicholls State on Dec. 1, 2012, at Breslin Center. Appling was the leading scorer for the Spartans with a total of 13 points, helping them beat the Colonels 84-39. Natalie Kolb/The State News
As is the case for many college basketball teams this time of year, there still are kinks to be worked out by head coach Tom Izzo and the No. 19 MSU basketball team. However, in the nonconference season, aside from a few games, it’s often hard to find a fair point of evaluation.
Through eight games, the Spartans (6-2) have a marquee victory over then-No. 7 Kansas in the Champions Classic, while they’ve struggled in victories over Boise State and Louisiana-Lafayette and also in a loss to Miami (Fla.).
As the nonconference season winds down with just five more games before the team opens up the Big Ten season, Izzo said there’s plenty of work to be done. Izzo’s next chance to evaluate where his team is comes in Wednesday’s game against the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s Arkansas-Pine Bluff (8 p.m., Big Ten Network).
“The game coming up, it’s a running team, too,” Izzo said. “It’s a very athletic team; maybe the most athletic bigs that we’ve played against, and yet a team that’s been streaky. (They) played very well in stretches against Oregon, Arizona State and then maybe shot themselves in the foot with some quick shooting and turnovers at the end.”
The Golden Lions (1-6), who open their season on a 12-game road trip, come to Breslin Center on a four-game losing skid, dropping games to San Diego State, Washington State, Arizona State and Oregon, with the team’s lone win of the year coming against the University of Maryland-Eastern Shores.
Coming off a lopsided victory Saturday against Nicholls State, the Spartans enter the game with another chance to showcase their new lineup, which features senior Derrick Nix at center, sophomore guard Branden Dawson playing the power forward position with junior center Adreian Payne coming off the bench. Although it’s an adjustment period for the team, junior guard Keith Appling said it really won’t change the style of play the team’s trying to execute on the court.
“It really doesn’t matter who’s in there,” Appling said. “(Nix and Payne are) pretty good athletes, and they can get up and down the floor a little bit. It really doesn’t matter which one is on the floor; we’re still going to try to run.”
As it pertains to Nix, the new lineup gives him an opportunity to show what he’s capable of without Payne on the floor. The 6-feet-9 center, who graded his team as an A-minus at this point in the season, sees the opportunity to get more touches in the post with only one big body in the paint at a time.
But as the Big Ten season approaches, Nix said it’s essential to find a way to play together well in his final season with Izzo and the Spartans.
“At the end of the day, I’m the only senior on the team, so I’m playing for my livelihood,” Nix said. “I don’t got no more years, so if I gotta call people out to determine my life after this, I gotta do what I gotta do.”