Dec. 3 | VIRGINIA-MICHIGAN STATE | ESPN.com's ACC/Big Ten Challenge page
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was furious about his team's performance at the Great Alaska Shootout. He was upset because he prides himself on defense, which has been the Spartans' staple. Izzo was especially disappointed with the way his team defended late in the semifinal loss to Villanova. Wildcats guard Gary Buchanan lit up the Spartans from behind the arc.
Izzo was also disappointed that his team failed to hold a lead down the stretch in the third-place game against Oklahoma State. According to Izzo, the bottom line is that the Spartans' guard play has been horrendous -- too many turnovers and no stopping penetration.
|Super soph Kelvin Torbert gives the Spartans scoring punch and athleticism.|
Michigan State turned the ball over 18 times against Villanova and 18 more times against Oklahoma State. You won't win many games when you give your opponent that many extra opportunities.
Now the Spartans take on coach Pete Gillen's Virginia Cavaliers on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN) in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Michigan State is a talented team, and once Izzo's youngsters get used to his way of thinking, this club will be tough to beat, especially at home.
Spartans point guard Chris Hill has to be solid day in and day out. The transition from shooting guard can be difficult. He must be more consistent in directing and organizing the offensive sets. Aloysius Anagonye, coming off a 21-point performance against coach Eddie Sutton's Cowboys, has to provide power and presence in the post.
Super soph Kelvin Torbert has to step up at the two-guard and give the Spartans scoring with his athleticism. Alan Anderson has to produce on the wing. Diaper dandy Paul Davis has a world of potential and has shown signs in limited minutes already. Michigan State will get better and better with each performance because Izzo wouldn't have it any other way.
What about Virginia? You have to be impressed with the Cavaliers' win over Kentucky at the Maui Invitational. The Cavs shut down the Wildcats on the perimeter, forcing them to miss their first 16 trifecta attempts. They did a great job defensively (Kentucky came back and beat Gonzaga the next day).
Gillen relies on Travis Watson to be a warrior on the interior. Watson has grabbed at least eight rebounds in every game so far this season. Elton Brown has been a factor inside and must come through again vs. the Spartans.
The key in this contest should be the guard play. Virginia's Todd Billet, the transfer from Rutgers, must make his 3-pointers. Keith Jenifer has to handle the rock and execute the offense. The trio of Billet, Jenifer and Devin Smith struggled from the floor in Virginia's loss to Indiana in the Maui final, combining to shoot just 4-of-23.
Last season, Virginia really struggled down the stretch. This season, Gillen added a defensive-minded assistant in Rod Jensen, the former head coach at Boise State. Jensen brings a lot of defensive expertise and has made an impact already.
Remember, last season this battle came to an end in the second half with Virginia up 31-28. Condensation on the floor in Richmond left the conditions unplayable. Gillen called the scene "Bambi on Ice."
We should get a winner this time around. I'm excited to see these two teams in action. It will be a test for Izzo's Spartans after the cold shoulder they got in Alaska.