Michigan State has three double figure starters. They are led Wooden Award candidate Kalin Lucas, who is leading the team with 15.6 points and 3.9 assists per game. Chris Allen, who is the team’s top outside shooter, is averaging 10.8 points and Raymar Morgan, a senior forward, is adding 10.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per contest.
When Tom Izzo decided to bring sophomore forward Draymond Green off the bench, he used as an example former Michigan State star Morris Peterson, who was first-team All-Big Ten in 1998-99 as the team's sixth man. So far, Green, who had previously committed to Tubby Smith when he was the head coach at Kentucky, is living up to that ideal.
Green arguably has been the Spartans' best all-around player this season. He leads MSU in rebounding (7.9 a game) and steals (23). He is second in scoring (11.3) and blocks (12). And he is third with 52 assists, making the offense hum with his extraordinary feel for the game.
As seen in Saturday's 71-53 win at Iowa, Green is the catalyst. He blew open a close game in the first half with three driving baskets in a row.
"To me he's one of the best (sixth men) in the country, not in the league," Izzo said after Green had 14 points and 11 rebounds against the Hawkeyes.
"And I mean that, because ... we're not even going to Draymond and he gets four points off missed free throws. He gets tip-ins. It's not like they're plays for him. He's just all over the place and is doing a lot of great things.
"I mean, he's going out and finding ways to score points. He doesn't need anybody to pass him the ball. When you have that for a sixth man, boy, you've got a diamond. And right now he's been a diamond for us."
Green is also the team's most vocal player. Izzo made him a co-captain in late December, saying Green earned the position in the season's first few weeks.
The way he's playing, Green seems to have earned a starting spot as well, but Izzo likes having that kind of impact off the bench.
"It's fine, coming in and giving the team a lift off the bench," Green said. "As long as we're gonna win games and this helps us win, that's all that matters to me."
--The Spartans' 71-53 win at Iowa gave them a 2-0 record in Big Ten road games this season, after they set a school record by going 8-1 last season. Michigan State has won 10 of 11 road games just once before, winning the last seven of the 1998-99 season and three of the first four in 1999-2000 en route to the national championship.
--Speaking of 1999-2000, that was one of two previous seasons in which Tom Izzo started 3-0 in the Big Ten. He also did it last season, before winning the league and advancing to the Final Four. This is Michigan State's third 3-0 Big Ten start under Izzo, but he said he "wouldn't be betting my wife and my life" that there's any significance to the start.
ON THE SPOT: Turnovers continue to be a problem. The Spartans had 18 of them against Iowa, an un-athletic team that did not pressure the ball. Michigan State is simply coughing it up on careless passes and traveling violations, and Tom Izzo said he will spend extra time on the problem this week. The Spartans host Minnesota on Wednesday, and Tubby Smith's team loves to pressure and force mistakes.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "That was a tough game, tough game to play in. I told Bo (Ryan), I don't know if we both played bad, both played good or both played tough. ... You always question your team's toughness until you see them against a tough team, and that was a tough team we played." -- Tom Izzo after a Jan. 6 victory over Wisconsin.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: The Spartans opened Big Ten play with victories over ranked teams -- Northwestern on the road and Wisconsin at home. Michigan State's three losses came against good nonleague competition -- at North Carolina and Texas, and vs. Florida in Atlantic City. Michigan State has held 12 of 16 teams under 40 percent shooting, but UNC and Texas were both over 56 percent.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- G Kalin Lucas, G Chris Allen, F Raymar Morgan, F Delvon Roe, C Derrick Nix. Key Subs -- F Draymond Green, G Durrell Summers, G Korie Lucious, C Garrick Sherman, G Austin Thornton.
MSU 91, Northwestern 70
MSU 54, Wisconsin 47
MSU 71, Iowa 53
vs. Minnesota, Wednesday, Jan. 13
vs. Illinois, Saturday, Jan. 16
vs. Iowa, Wednesday, Jan. 20
at Minnesota, Saturday, Jan. 23
at Michigan, Tuesday, Jan. 26
IN FOCUS: Quality big men are on the horizon for the Spartans. Minnesota brings in Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III, and Illinois 7-footer Mike Tisdale gave the Spartans lots of trouble a year ago. The Spartans' young centers have been playing sparingly, but that may have to change -- especially against Tisdale. It took 6-11 shot blocker Idong Ibok to cool him a year ago in a win at Illinois, and Ibok isn't available this time.
--Sophomore G Durrell Summers hurt his left (non-shooting) shoulder on a dunk during pre-game warm-ups before the Wisconsin game Jan. 6. He played in that game and against Iowa on Saturday, but had three points total in the two games. He combined for 37 points in the previous two games.
--Junior C Tom Herzog has been out of the rotation, but a good week of practice earned him an early look in the Iowa game. Herzog had two rebounds but also turned it over twice in four minutes, and he didn't see the floor in the second half.
--Freshman C Derrick Nix has started two straight games, showing some nice post moves in the process. Nix also hit a free throw at Iowa. That improved him to 5 of 34 (16.7 percent) on the season. He started 1 of 20.