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Young team prepares to face road challenge

November 21, 2001

If MSU wants to move on to the Preseason NIT Finals, it will have to overcome a plethora of problems.

For starters, MSU men’s basketball head coach Tom Izzo said he isn’t sure how his No. 13 Spartans will cope with No. 18 Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense - especially after it needed overtime to beat the Midwest All-Stars in exhibition play Sunday.

“They play the zone, which is something we don’t run into very often,” Izzo said of Syracuse. “Not many people play it in the Big Ten, so I think this will be good preparation, not only for us as a team now, but hopefully later on where we might face some zones.”

Today’s game at Madison Square Garden in New York City will be the first road trip for an extremely young team - and Izzo said he knows that means his team will need to grow up fast.

“I think it’s important to see if we can compete on the national level on the road,” Izzo said. “Being at home is fun, but being on the road, for young guys, is usually a lot more difficult.

“I think we have a very together team, but the only place they have been together is right here. I think sometimes you’ve got to go places to figure out a little bit more about your team and that’s why I’m anxious to see how we handle the different situations and spending some time together. I think it’s going to be good for us all.”

And for the three freshmen, forward Alan Anderson and guards Chris Hill and Kelvin Torbert, today’s game is the biggest of their careers.

“We need to be extremely focused,” Hill said. “Not just focused, but extremely focused and concentrate on what we want to do when you’re in a hostile environment away from your home.”

But MSU’s largest problem in its last game may have been running the fast-break offense.

Sophomore point guard Marcus Taylor said if the Spartans play like they did Sunday, Syracuse guards Preston Shumpert and DeShaun Williams will dismantle the MSU offense.

“We watched some film on Syracuse,” Taylor said. “And they play the zone, that’s what they play throughout the whole first half and second half, so we’ve been working on that a lot.

“I think they have two great players in Shumpert and Williams. It’s a little tougher to guard them because they can penetrate and shoot, so we have to make sure we close out on defense and just get our fast-break going, so that can’t get into the zone.”

Shumpert averages 24 points per game and Williams adds an additional 20.7 to the Orangemen’s offensive punch. But Izzo said they pose deeper problems because of their ability to play stingy in the zone and force turnovers.

Not that MSU needs help committing turnovers - it racked up 17 against the All-Stars.

“They have two phenomenal players in Williams and Shumpert,” Izzo said, “Both are capable of getting 30 a game. (They) kind of dare you to shoot the ball from outside (on defense). But their guards are pesky, they really get into the passing lanes, they get a lot of steals, they get a lot of turnovers.”

Today’s game will be shown at 7 p.m. on ESPN.

The winner of the game will play the winner of the Wake Forest vs. Fresno State in the Preseason NIT Finals on Friday.

Paul Day can be reached at


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