Izzo sees plenty of positives from Georgia exhibition

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — The primary goal Sunday when Michigan State and Georgia squared off in an exhibition game at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids was to raise money for the American Red Cross.

That goal was reached to the tune of nearly $340,000.

The benefit for two basketball teams is harder to quantify, but it seems there’s little doubt the Spartans will be much better off for having added the game against the Bulldogs to a preseason schedule that included last week’s meeting with Ferris State and ends Friday at home against Hillsdale.

Georgia coach Mark Fox was certain his team took a big step, and Michigan State coach Tom Izzo agreed.

“That was one of those weird days where there were a lot of wins and not that many losses,” Izzo said Tuesday of an 80-68 victory. “I think Mark felt his team played pretty good, I think we felt our team played pretty good. I think he said something to me that (the game) was worth two weeks of practice, and I kind of felt the same way. You know which makes me wonder what I would pull for in our NCAA and NABC meetings because you know, having that one time against real, real good teams is, it’s good for you especially when you can gain experience.”

Michigan State and Georgia, like many teams, took advantage of an NCAA exception this season that allowed for an extra exhibition game if the proceeds went to charity.

For the Spartans, it offered a chance to see improvement after struggling a bit last week against Ferris State, a Division II team that won a school-record 28 games last season and is ranked as high as No. 9 in one preseason poll.

In Georgia, Michigan State dealt with a physical, more talented team and came away with plenty of positives.

“We felt our first game, our dribble penetration (defense) was awful,” Izzo said. “Second game we shored some of that up and did a better job on our ball screens. Much, much better job on transition defense from the first game to the second game. Much better job of getting Josh (Langford) and Miles (Bridges) to the boards.

“So, you know, we’re trying to look at those difference pieces of the puzzle; did a better job of executing zone offense the second game than the first, and yet I think the second game, the team was a pretty solid, good team in Georgia.”

The meeting with Hillsdale on Friday offers the final chance for Michigan State — ranked No. 2 in the preseason coaches’ poll — to prepare for the season opener Nov. 10 at home against North Florida before taking on Duke in a potential 1-2 matchup Nov. 14 at the Champions Classic in Chicago.

The focus until then will be as much on themselves as their opponents, Izzo said.

The Spartans will try to get a handle on their rotation as the deep frontcourt gets figured out and the talented wings build confidence. And for those who need to score, Izzo will keep pushing.

“It starts with Miles, and yet Miles needs to figure out that he can be selfish without being selfish,” Izzo said. “I want Miles to be aggressive every minute of the game because I trust him. He’s more aggressive, he’s putting it on the floor so much better than he did. He’s passing so much better than he did a year ago that I think he is starting to fall in love with it. I’ve got to tell him ‘You still have to score points for me,’ and that’s what I told him at halftime (against Georgia).

“I thought in the first half he kind of came on a little bit, but you know in general Cassius (Winston) is another guy that can pass up some shots and he might be shooting as good as anybody on our team right now. (Matt) McQuaid has done it a couple of times. For some of them it might be confidence, for Miles and Cassius I think it’s just unselfishness and we’ll find a way to have a happy medium in there.”