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Michigan State in midst of best non-conference run since ’01?


Mike Miller

Tom Izzo claimed Michigan State wasn’t in rebuilding mode. Ten games into the season, it’s clear he’s correct.

The Spartans (8-2) are coming off a 74-67 win at Gonzaga, the latest indication that they’ll be a player in what’s shaping up to be a classic battle for the Big Ten title. Izzo’s team is playing superb defense, rebounding like mad (stunner) and getting impressive contributions from a deep roster of players who are thriving in specific roles.

And unlike previous seasons when the team struggled due to chemistry issues or effort, Michigan State has resolved to fix any issues before they become larger problems.

Take last week’s 89-69 win against Central Connecticut. The Spartans stunk in the first half and Izzo’s postgame displeasure prompted a players-only meeting afterward.

“We just had a few things to nip in the bud right now,” senior Draymond Green said. “Lack of effort is something we won’t do. It won’t happen to this team. If you just let things like that go, guys get used to that, and that’s what they become. We will not let this team become that.”

With Green leading the way (a team-best 16.3 points and 9.7 rebounds a game) what Michigan State has done is put together its best non-conference performance since the 2000-01 season when the Spartans beat UNC, Florida and Seton Hall, as noted by KJ at The Only Colors.

The Spartans are even blocking shots and making steals, something Izzo’s team don’t usually pull off, even when the defense is clicking. (They prefer to harass teams into poor shots, then grab the ensuing miss.) The offensive efficiency isn’t as good as it was during recent Final Four runs in 2009 and 2010, but when MSU’s hitting its twos (52.8 percent) and grabbing its own misses (nearly 40 percent of those) it doesn’t have to be brutally efficient.

I also like the roster mix. Green remains Mr. Everything, but sophomores Keith Appling and Adreian Payne have made huge jumps , transfer Brandon Wood is a welcome addition, Derrick Nix remains a beast and freshmen Branden Dawson and Travis Trice have been nice pieces.

Michigan State gets three more games (all at home, all easy Ws) before opening Big Ten play vs. Indiana. Then we’ll see how good the Spartans can be – and how good this Big Ten race will be.

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