Some quick thoughts on the three days in total.
– I said before the tournament started that 2-1 would be a success. It is. For this team, the conditions they’re playing under in terms of travel, depth, etc. it’s a positive. It actually played out the way I was inclined to think it would in terms of the end results (not necessarily the way the games unfolded).
– Very frustrating end to this last game and of course the second half yesterday was an unmitigated disaster, but keep the focus where it should be…this team actually played the three best halves we’ve seen from them so far this season IMO. Improvement is happening, roles are slowly starting to take shape, and I saw more progress than regression over these three days.
– MSU has one half of a very good post combination going in Nick Ward. Miles was clearly MSU’s best player over these three days but I’d be inclined to put Nick in a dead heat with Tum for the #2 spot. You see the difference he makes for them offensively, to have that weapon on the blocks. Defensively, he had some struggles at times but more often than not, he’s looked ahead of the curve to me compared to where I expected him to be right now. On the glass is where he makes the biggest difference, though. His hands and his body change the equation on the boards for MSU when he’s on the floor.
– The other half, Kenny Goins, has to pick it up. Sorry, but this is not about his being 6’6′ or any of that…I’ve seen him defend and board against high caliber competition too often to buy into that nonsense. He is fully capable of doing those two things against ANYBODY. He looked tired to me over the last two games especially…not an excuse, just a description of what I saw. That said, he has to fight his way through that. Nick can’t play 30 minutes…foul trouble will eat him up before that happens in most games…so they need Kenny to be the guy we saw in the first two games of this season, against high caliber, BIG opponents. He can do this, of that I have no doubt, but he HAS to do it for MSU to compete the way they want to.
-The freshmen had their struggles late today but notice that they were also the guys stepping up to make the plays MSU had to have in order to win the game. Cash’s triple was an example of the kind of guy those of us who saw him frequently in HS know he can be…ice in his veins. Not everybody wants to take that shot. He does, and the results won’t be positive every time but you have to have guys who WILL step up and try to make that play confidently. He has that in him.
– I think that overall, today was a good and necessary day for Eron, Alvin and McQuaid. They all had a lot of very good moments in this one. It’s funny, because so much of the attention in the media goes to MSU’s lack of size and bodies inside or the eternal Tum debates, but the REAL truth is that MSU is going to go largely as do their wings. When those guys are giving MSU consistent offense and checking, they are a very tough team to beat. When they don’t, MSU struggles.
– The other name in that group is Josh Langford. He’s just clearly not himself physically. I’m hoping that they get past Tuesday and then find a way to get him healthier, get his explosion back. This is a guy I thought would be a 12-15 ppg player this season and MSU hasn’t gotten anywhere close to that production so far. Assuming they can get him back to near 100%, that will be a major change for this team going forward
– Tum had a great three days, just fantastic. He defended very well in all three games, had the big explosion on offense against St. John’s and had a big playmaking game today. He’s not going to be losing minutes, folks…it’s not happening. He matters to this team and I think if those who have issues with his play can work to stay objective, they’ll look at these three games and see how much he means to this group..ON the court, not just off it.
– Miles was fantastic all tournament long but man, how about those two free throws to put it away today? That’s what you ask for from a leader. Like it or not, a freshman HAS to be that with this team and he stepped forward and delivered. Still think they need to get more for him in the paint and I know Izzo believes that as well. That’s what December will be for.
– Glass half full take on today (and FGCU, to be honest)…just as the Arizona game demonstrated they knew how to play just well enough to lose, these two games saw them make enough winning plays when needed most to mean they’re learning positive lessons as well. Yeah, they let the Shockers back into it to be sure, but in the end, MSU had to MAKE plays to win it and they did that. That’s a positive.
Bottom line is that MSU did what they needed to do over these three days. It wasn’t pretty, it certainly wasn’t easy, but today’s win should be a good one come March…I think Wichita State will be in the MVC mix and might win it. A likely loss on Tuesday doesn’t change the bottom line equation for MSU. Losses in games like today or against FGCU would have put much more pressure on them going forward. Fortunately, they got it done.