Notes from a Michigan State basketball fan after a 68-52 win over Minnesota:
-- Congrats to Coach Tom Izzo on his 400th career win during his 17th season, an advance celebration of his 57th birthday on Jan. 30. I haven't always liked his feverish sideline demeanor and have wondered whether he got his players overly fired up at times, but can't deny that the Spartans usually play hard. (Although last season, mysteriously, there seemed to be some morale problems.) Izzo is known for his teams' defense and rebounding, but let's not underestimate the proactive offense. He coaches a great fast break, and during the win over Minnesota I was admiring how the Sparties were running the set offense, with well-timed bounce passes and swing passes. Izzo gave praise to his mentor, Jud Heathcote, but if he really wishes to honor Jud, his will slam a basketball into the floor and have it crash back up into his face. (True Sparties will recall the hilarious incident of which I speak.)
-- Draymond Green is becoming more and more incredible. His line against Minnesota: 22 points (9 of 11 shooting), 14 boards, 6 assists. His only flaw was missing four of seven free throws, which was anamoly because he has improved greatly in this area. I liked when Dae Dae power-dunked during the first half, because I'm hoping he's strong enough to make it in the NBA, but if he makes the pro grade, it will be for his team play and for his spirit and for his smarts. My wife and me encountered Draymond on occasion on a summer playground in Saginaw where we volunteered, and Denise for two years has been asking me, "Is Draymond going to make the big money?" I had been answering that I was hopeful but skeptical, but now, along with a number of Big Ten Network commentators, I am more optimistic. Big Ten Player of the Year? So far, I'd say so.
-- This year's MSU team shows more common sense than last year's squad. I was afraid the Sparties were getting somewhat three-point happy at the start of the Minnesota game, but when they missed early, they took a chill pill and went to the hoop, either in their set offense or in fast breaks. For the game, they finished 2 for 11 from downtown. Last year, they might have gone out of control with 3 for 20, or something like that.
-- I'm liking the one-two punch at center to support Green up front. Against the Gophers, Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix combined for 16 points (8 apiece) on 7 of 11 shooting. Am also liking sophomore point guard Keith Appling. Even though he had an off night with only one bucket, missing four triple tries, Keith still ran the offense with poise beyond his years.