by David Cassilo / @dcassilo
The basketball world got its first look at Michigan State on Tuesday night as the Spartans defeated Northwood, 85-57, in an exhibition game.
In a rarity for preseason college basketball, the matchup pitted two NCAA title-winning coaches, Tom Izzo and Rollie Massimino, against each other.
Despite the wide margin, Izzo believes his team needs to improve in many areas.
“It’s not going to just come over night,” Izzo said. “The leadership is going to take some time. It’s going to be a work in progress, but I like some pieces.”
Against Northwood, the Spartans showed off their two biggest strengths—depth and defense. Five of Izzo’s players reached double-figures in scoring, and Michigan State held Northwood to 30 percent shooting.
For Michigan State, the biggest storyline coming in is how they will replace Draymond Green. The former Spartan was a leader and elite offensive and defensive player.
At the team’s media day, Izzo suggested that many players would need to fill Green’s shoes.
The first five of those players on Tuesday were Derrick Nix, Keith Appling, Adreian Payne, Branden Dawson and Gary Harris, who made up the team’s starting lineup.
The lineup is pretty much how the Spartan faithful expected, with the exception of Harris. As a true freshman, Harris enters the season with a lot of hype after winning Mr. Basketball in Indiana.
His defensive skills are far beyond that of most freshmen and are likely what got Harris into the starting lineup. But on Tuesday, his offensive game shone bright. He finished with 14 points.
“He just fit,” Izzo said. “Unlike a lot of our other guys, he did what he could do. As a freshman, he guarded very well.”
Defense should not be a problem for the Spartans. With Nix and Payne, both at least 6-9, down low, post defense is one of the team’s strengths. Harris, Appling and Dawson give Izzo three tough-mined perimeter players as well.
Offense is a different story. Green was by far the team’s most consistent scorer last season, and as Michigan State enters the season, it’s unclear who the team’s go-to scorer will be.
Branden Dawson auditioned for that role from the opening tip against Northwood. He scored the first 6 points, including a dunk to open the game. That particular play was noteworthy because Dawson is coming off of ACL surgery.
While Dawson averaged just 8.4 points per game last season as a freshman, he had a stretch in the middle of Big Ten play when he hit double figures in scoring for five straight games. His 16 points led all scorers on Tuesday.
“He helped us to that big lead because he made some plays,” Izzo said.
One thing that Izzo said his team would do this season perhaps more than ever was run, and on Tuesday, that’s just what they did. The Spartans had 29 points on the fast break in the victory.
The Spartans will get another tune-up when they play St. Cloud State on Friday.