MSU's Xavier Tillman on improving his game The Detroit News
East Lansing – Tom Izzo isn’t the kind of coach that dives into statistical analytics.
In fact, the Michigan State coach joked this week that he and his friends from the Upper Peninsula would have trouble spelling the word analytics.
But there was one statistic from Sunday’s victory over Florida Gulf Coast that caught Izzo’s attention — a plus-31 for sophomore forward Xavier Tillman. That, Izzo believes, shows what the 6-foot-8 Tillman means to the Spartans.
“Xavier right now is an enigma to me because it looks like he’s not doing that much,” Izzo said. “And you saw the plus-minus stat. I’m not much of an analytics guy, but I think there is some merit to it, because when he’s in the game, a lot of good things are happening, and that is X.
“We need to get him a little better offensively now and we will be a much better team.”
Tillman played just more than 18 minutes against Florida Gulf Coast, finishing with eight points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks while he didn’t turn the ball over. The numbers weren’t as impressive in the season-opener against Kansas, but Tillman scored six points and blocked two more shots.
Being able to do a little bit of everything is the sort of role Tillman relishes, one he hopes to expand when No. 11 Michigan State (1-1) hosts Louisiana Monroe (2-1) at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
“It’s obvious I need to work on my scoring, so that I can do that a bit more,” Tillman said. “But I like it because now I help our scorers get in position. I know where they like to get it, like Josh (Langford) with the mid-range, or Cassius (Winston) with the three, or Nick (Ward) on the drop-off or post up or Kenny (Goins) on the pick and pop.
“I know all their tendencies and what they like to do, so I think being efficient is something I look at as very important and I really focus on it.”
Tillman did mention the need to become more of an offense threat, and to that end, he spent a large part of his off-season working on his jump shot.
But where the Spartans need Tillman to become a difference-maker is scoring in the post.
MSU's Tom Izzo on his team after two games The Detroit News
“He’s worked so hard on his shooting over the summer and he is a better shooter,” Izzo said. “But guys think they’ll get 30 3s and you’re not gonna do that. He needs to be able to score down around the basket. He’s not the biggest guy in America, even though he’s physically big. So, he’s got to learn to get it off with his right hand, his left hand on jump hooks. He can go up and dunk it. He’s got great, quick hops.
“I think Xavier will improve. One thing is he is smart and he understands things. He takes things really well, so he’ll get better this week.”
Tillman says repetition will make him a better low-post scorer and he’s been working hard with associate head coach Dwayne Stephens every day.
He’s also watching Ward and how the junior has become one of the most effective low-post scorers in the country.
“I need to be more patient down low,” Tillman said. “I was watching Nick and he’s really patient. I was laughing, he scored twice right before I subbed in (on Sunday) and the defender helped and he just moved the ball over his head and just dunked it. It looked really smooth. I’m like, ‘Man, when I get it down low it doesn’t look like this.’ So just being patient will help me be a way-better scorer. I need to be more patient, more aware of where the defense is at and then making right read to make the right move.”
Louisiana Monroe at Michigan State
Tip-off: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Breslin Center, East Lansing
TV/radio: BTN Plus/Spartan Sports Network
Records: Louisiana Monroe 2-1; No. 11 Michigan State 1-1
Outlook: Louisiana Monroe’s leading scorer Daishon Smith missed Monday’s game against Texas and could miss the Michigan State game. The Warhawks stayed closing, losing to Texas by 10. The Longhorns are one of three other teams in next week’s Las Vegas Invitational. MSU plays UCLA in one game in Vegas while Texas takes on North Carolina.