November 29, 2012 at 1:00 am

Matt Charboneau

Tom Izzo's big experiment for MSU's defense appears to be over

Miami's Julian Gamble and MSU's Adreian Payne (5) go up for a rebound Wednesday night. (Joel Auerbach / Getty Images)

Coral Gables, Fla. — Late Wednesday night, in a steamy room in the bowels of the BankUnited Center on the campus of the University of Miami, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was starting to come to grips with one simple fact:

He can no longer play Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne together.

It was his hope entering the season that Payne could make the transition to power forward, but seven games in, it seems obvious that plan simply will not work.

"Maybe my experiment with the two bigs is over," Izzo said after No. 13 Michigan State's 67-59 loss to Miami.

It was something that seemed to be coming since the Spartans started playing almost three weeks ago. The big lineup showed some promise in a victory over Kansas, and with the various injuries they had early, it looked like Izzo was willing to ride out some of the rough spots and hope things become more settled when the roster was healthy.

However, on Wednesday, everyone was back, including guards Gary Harris and Travis Trice. But Payne and Nix, once again, failed to find any cohesion.

"Honestly, me and Payne cost us the game," Nix said. "That's just what it is. We didn't get enough out of me and him."

And Izzo seemed truly resigned to the fact his senior captain was right.

This was supposed to be the perfect matchup for the Michigan State tandem. The Hurricanes are big and strong, and it seemed to be a welcome change after playing a string of smaller teams that put pressure defensively on the two big men.

But it was the quickness of the Miami guards that exposed the fact that defensively, Nix and Payne didn't get the job done.

They both struggled all night on the high ball screens, forcing the help defense to collapse to the lane and freeing up the Miami shooters.

"It was just ridiculous how we worked on it and what we did (in the game)," Izzo said. "You're looking at the guy guarding the (shooter) and it was really what happened up on top that was the difference. We did a poor job all night."

What comes of the performance against the Hurricanes remains to be seen.

There is a chance that Izzo could simply have been upset and won't altogether abandon the idea of his two big guys on the floor at the same time. There's also the fact it was Michigan State's fifth game in 11 days and it seemed to show, especially in the second half, when standing around seemed to become an epidemic for the Spartans.

Defense was certainly the biggest issue against Miami, but the offense was nothing to write home about either.

The big men were not good there, either, but the Spartans continue to search for someone to consistently be a threat from the perimeter.

Plenty of guys have shown they can make shots — Harris, Trice, Keith Appling — but few have been consistent. On Wednesday, Michigan State was 6-for-14 from 3-point range, and in the second half, shot just 36.7 percent overall.

But the true disappointment for Michigan State remains the play inside.

Nix and Payne were hard on themselves after the game, both pointing the finger squarely at themselves. But that's not to say it was jus them. Alex Gauna and Matt Costello didn't fare any better than their teammates in limited minutes.

What it could spell is more small lineups.

There is no doubt that Michigan State has been better this season with one big man on the floor along with various combinations of Appling, Harris, Trice, Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson.

A consistent rotation must be found over the next six games before Big Ten play begins, and odds are it will look much smaller than Izzo had hoped.

"We don't have time for me to keep making mistakes (at power forward) and get better," Payne said. "We're trying to win games."

It appears to do that, the plan of going big will have to be put on the shelf.

mcharboneau@detnews.com

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