Spartans must shift gears against fast-paced Sooners

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Jordan Woodard leads the Sooners in assists at almost four per game.

East Lansing — Night and day. Black and white. Liberal and conservative.

Call it what you will, but Michigan State will be making a drastic adjustment this week as it prepares to take on Oklahoma in the semifinals of the East Region of the NCAA Tournament on Friday in Syracuse, N.Y.

Michigan State just got finished with college basketball's version of a fist fight on Sunday when it eliminated second-seeded Virginia from the NCAA Tournament, and it wasn't much different in the tournament-opening victory over Georgia. Now the No. 7 Spartans have to kick it into a much higher gear for the third-seeded Sooners.

"I think we could have a test run for the 20‑second shot clock in this game," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "It will be just the reverse-opposite of what we just went through.

"We told our guys last week, 'You're going to have to play defense probably for 34 seconds.' Maybe a little less, with Georgia, but we felt with Virginia, that's what we had to do. Now I think we're going to have to play defense for a lot less seconds."

Michigan State (25-11) ground out the win over Virginia but prepares itself in the non-conference by playing different styles. Oklahoma (24-10) will provide a completely different look.

Last season, the teams met in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Michigan State won, 87-76. This season, Oklahoma enters the game averaging 71.9 points and looks to run as much as Michigan State.

"They're kind of unique compared to the other teams we've played late in the season," Michigan State guard Travis Trice said. "They like to get up and down. A lot of times we saw on film today they are shooting the ball 10 seconds into the shot clock. Our thing will be to get back and stop them and then be able to run ourselves."

Added senior forward Branden Dawson, "This will definitely be more of a fast-paced game. Oklahoma likes to get out in transition and run and that's our game. So we're talking about their running game, but they have to defend us, too."

That they will, but Michigan State's ability to rebound and get back on defense will be just as big as pushing the ball offensively.

"Our transition defense is going to be very, very critical," Izzo said. "Our rebounding off the run is going to be something that they are very good at, which not a lot of teams do that. Illinois used to do that very well, the real good team they had in '05. They'd break so much, then they could rebound

"That's different because everybody is running back and you're not finding guys. We got five or six things that will be points of emphasis in tonight's practice, tomorrow at practice and hopefully Thursday's."

The Sooners have some quick versatile guards that push the pace.

Junior Buddy Hield is the team's leading scorer at 17.3 points a game while Isaiah Cousins scores 11.9 and Jordan Woodard is handing out nearly four assists a game.

Much of Michigan State's focus will be on slowing Hield.

"He does take some tough shots, but he makes some tough shots, too," Izzo said. "Great offensive rebounder. We got to cut him out and that's not been a strength of ours, especially when we switch on our perimeter. We could have Tum (Lourawls Nairn Jr.) on him, we could have Trav on him. … I think he's a hell of a player. He's got size. He can pull up and shoot on a dime. They're getting shots up and he's making his share of them, too.

"It will be an interesting matchup. The more film we watch, the more calls we make to find out the best ways to defend him. It's been fun."

Oklahoma isn't all speed, however. Forwards Ryan Spangler (6-8, 235) and TaShawn Thomas (6-8, 242) are plenty physical. They're not quite what Michigan State just saw in Virginia, but they'll provide a challenge as well.

"I think they're a little more skilled, but they're not quite as physically bruising," Izzo said. "We got hurt on the boards (against Virginia), but we played against four guys that I thought were very, very, very good rebounders, quickness to the ball, strength, jumping ability. (Oklahoma doesn't have) huge size, meaning 6-10 or 6-11. But both teams have guys that could get after you on the boards."