Michigan State men's basketball coach Tom Izzo has harped again and again about how difficult the upcoming six-game slate, after Sunday night's blow-out of Tennessee Tech, will be for the Spartans:
A Breath Before the Big Boys
A Thanksgiving clash with UCLA followed by either North Carolina or Texas, then on the road at Louisville, two Big Ten games away at Rutgers and home for Iowa and a trip to Gainesville to play Florida. That is about as tough of a stretch as you’ll find anyone playing in November and December. So, with that being said, Tennessee Tech was not up to anyone’s standards — Sunday was in many ways just practice.
It had been tough sledding for the Spartans in getting their first two home wins of the season before Sunday. Florida Gulf Coast matched up athletically pretty well, and Louisiana-Monroe defended doggedly after Nick Ward got hurt, but there was simply no way Tennessee Tech was going to be able to compete.
“I really think we finished better tonight, and I feel a little bit better about where we’re at,” Izzo said.
Still, to the Spartans’ credit, as Izzo said, they did play better Sunday night than they had in the first two home games against inferior competition. The defense was stout, and they made eight straight shots to open the second half.
“Some of it is us. I think Cassius played a lot better tonight against quicker guys. I thought we did a better job of shrinking the court and not giving up threes. This wasn’t a great three-point shooting team, but I thought that helped,” Izzo said.
“I thought we got a little sloppy in (the previous two) games. We spent a lot of time talking about it, it’s not very often that people are shooting what they were shooting against us after the first couple games … We talked about defending without fouling, we talked about not giving up those straight-line drives, we talked about not letting it go in the post so easily, we did a better job.”
Bingham and Brown Get their Chance
After MSU's exhibition game against Northern Michigan, Izzo speculated he might redshirt freshman forward Marcus Bingham, but that didn’t end up happening, and Izzo will probably be happy that wasn’t the case going forward.
Bingham was the first big man off the bench tonight after sophomore Xavier Tillman. Last Wednesday against Louisiana-Monroe, Bingham was forced into extended action with Ward's injury out for most of the game. Sunday night, Izzo clearly made the decision to give Bingham a real look, allowing him over ten minutes of playing time. His stat line was mediocre — three points, one rebound, one turnover and two blocks — but the potential was there.
“He didn’t look bad. I think the problem with Bingham is gonna be the physical part now,” Izzo said. “He’ll play against a lot more physical guys than he played tonight. But you saw with him, length matters. He got driven, and then all of a sudden, he’s blocking a shot.”
Bingham himself admitted he was surprised to get as much run as he did.
“I think I played hard,” Bingham said. “I messed up on a few things but the things I messed up on, I know I can get better at.”
He is all limbs and energy right now, sometimes even appearing out of sorts — at one point during Sunday's game, he didn’t realize Ward was checking in for him, and had to be ushered toward the sideline.
“I feel like he’s right there,” junior point guard Cassius Winston said. “It’s a lot of little things, learning the game really, that’s holding him back — being in the right spots.”
Gabe Brown was another freshman who was given more run Sunday night, with about eight minutes of court time, just four minutes fewer than freshman wing Aaron Henry, who's a more regular contributor off the Spartans' bench.
Brown, an Ypsilanti, Michigan native, scored seven points against Tennessee Tech, and flashed some skill.
“With Aaron Henry, I told him before the game, ‘I’m gonna give Gabe a chance first today.' Those two guys got a chance to be special,” Izzo said. “They remind me so much of Morris (Peterson, a guard on the 2000 national championship team). Somebody’s gotta light a fire under them. I guess that’s the job I get to do, and I’m more than happy to do that.”
We will know more about who Izzo trusts after this weekend when MSU starts its tough slate of games — only eight players played meaningful minutes against Kansas, and Brown and Bingham were not among them.
“I wanted to try Gabe a little bit more, get Aaron some minutes, see what our freshmen could do. If you ask me, our freshmen aren’t ready yet. What does that mean with our playing group and what we do?” Izzo asked after Sunday's win.
He’ll be the one answering it soon enough.