UNC, Duke Defeat Michigan State in back-to-back commemorative hoops games

For the first time since before the Magic Johnson era, Michigan State basketball is 0-2. A 0-2 start to the season might be a big caution for most teams. However, those teams aren’t scheduling the #1 and #6 teams to start the season either. Michigan State isn’t fretting.

Michigan State was defeated by #1 North Carolina, 67-55, on the USS Carl Vinson on Veteran’s Day. The Tar Heels, a team loaded with NBA prospects, had trouble handling the Spartans for a lot of the game. The Spartans’ intense defense and rebounding limited the Tar Heels’ Preseason All-American, Tyler Zeller, to just nine points and six rebounds in the contest. Draymond Green ripped down 18 rebounds for the Spartans to compliment his 13 points.

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At Madison Square Garden, Michigan State took on #6 Duke- a team that was seeking Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s record-breaking 903rd win. Duke prevailed in this one, winning 74-69. Sloppy play and careless turnovers proved to be most costly for the Spartans.

A 0-2 start does not sound good for a team that is always a contender in college basketball. But the Spartans showed the nation what a scary team they can be.

  • The Bright Spots: In the first two games, Michigan State has played the type of ball that Tom Izzo prides himself on as a coach. Bodies are on the ground fighting for loose balls, and the rebounding has been perhaps the most vivid bright spot. If Draymond Green can pull down 18 rebounds versus the #1 team in the nation, the sky is the limit. However, his shooting has been subpar. New guys Brandon Wood and Branden Dawson seem to be fitting in great. Dawson has shown he’s not afraid to drive the ball, and his not-so freshman body gives him more power.

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True freshman Travis Trice has shown he can be a solid point guard, opening up the opportunity for Keith Appling to rest, as well as play shooting guard. Appling showed he can slice through the defense and get to the hoop. Another aspect worthy of value is the Spartans’ never-give-up attitude. Both these games could have gotten real ugly, real fast. But Michigan State never gave up in either of them, so take that into consideration when you’re filling out your bracket in March. Rightfully so, Michigan State is a good basketball team that’s full of potential.

  • The Ugly: Sure, it’s only two games into the season. But come on, the turnovers are horrendous. Something needs to be done when your starting point guard has been in foul trouble in both games while turning the ball over five times and still failing to record an assist. Shot-selection is also something that should concern the Spartans. They either need to find a way to get the ball in the basket, or take better shots. As a team, MSU has shot 22% from 3-point land. That just won’t cut it. An occasional deep three or fade away from Draymond Green isn’t necessary when he has the athleticism to cause mismatches and do work in the paint. Big man Derrick Nix played great against UNC, but poor versus Duke. His inconsistency is a concern as he is somebody who needs to remain confident. Also, senior Austin Thornton needs to contribute more if Izzo is going to keep him on the floor. Versus Duke, Thornton’s only ‘stats’ were two defensive fouls in 16 minutes of play. It wasn’t much better against North Carolina when he went 0-7 from the field with two turnovers and three rebounds. If he doesn’t get it going soon, Coach Tom Izzo will be sending him directly to the pine. Lastly, MSU needs to do a better job of defending what is hurting them. Andre Dawkins made 6 of 10 3-point field goals for Duke. You would think after he made three, MSU would deny him the ball along the perimeter at all cost. But he went on to hit three more 3-pointers and led all scorers with 26 points.

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  • Surprises: Brandan Kearney came off the bench vs. Duke in the final minutes and immediately took advantage. He missed on his drive to the basket, but was fouled moments later on a 3-point shot and converted 2 of 3 free throws. The Detroit native could be another sleeper for the Spartans as the season progresses.

  • Questions: Who will be the go-to-guy with Kalin Lucas gone?

    Who will emerge as the eighth regular in the lineup?

    Will somebody surface as the team’s shut-down defender?

    What will the Spartans do without retired Delvon Roe?

Some great, some good, some bad, some ugly. It’s still early. But if you saw the Spartans play these first two games, you should be impressed. A 0-2 start against UNC and Duke isn’t as bad as it sounds. Michigan State isn’t fretting.

The Spartans play their next game at home in East Lansing against Texas Southern on Friday, November 18th.

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