Crusaders face large task against big, physical Spartans
By Michael Osipoff 648-3137 or email@example.com March 20, 2013 7:12PM
Updated: April 22, 2013 12:23PM
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Erik Buggs paused. He took a moment, thoughtfully considered the question.
Had Valparaiso played any team with similar size to Michigan State’s?
The Crusaders’ senior point guard referenced Detroit from last season, with Eli Holman and LaMarcus Lowe, both listed at 6-foot-10.
“You really don’t know what to expect with this type of matchup until you get into the game,” Buggs said. “Coach Bryce (Drew) and the rest of the staff, they’ll make sure we’re really prepared. The biggest thing we’ll have to do is make sure we hit the boards really tough, because with a team that big, if you give them too many second chances, they can eat you alive.”
The No. 3 seed Spartans’ interior presence could present the greatest concern for the No. 14 Crusaders when the teams meet in the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 64 on Thursday at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Adreian Payne (10.4 points, 7.5 rebounds), a 6-foot-10 junior, has enjoyed a breakout season that included making the All-Big Ten second team, developing into an inside-outside threat. And 6-9 senior Derrick Nix (9.5, 6.2) is a behemoth down low.
“Not to their magnitude, no,” Drew said when a similar question was posed to him. “Some teams in conference might have similar height. But nothing like that, with four projected (NBA) draft picks in the next two years (Payne, Gary Harris, Branden Dawson, Keith Appling). We have not faced anything like that this year.
“They’re not only tall, but they’re physical, and they move really well. Nix has great balance, he has really good feet. And Payne’s just a sensational athlete and extremely long. Obviously, those are big challenges that we’re going to have to overcome.”
Kevin Van Wijk has embraced the challenge of battling Nix.
“Obviously, he’s a great player, a physical player,” Van Wijk said. “He’s shown great basketball throughout the years that he’s been playing. … I’m really looking forward to playing against him, and it’s going to be a great matchup.”
The Crusaders (26-7), of course, essentially employ four perimeter players, with one post player in Van Wijk, with Bobby Capobianco their lone big off the bench who has been part of their eight-man rotation. So their smaller lineup could create matchup problems on the other end for ninth-ranked Michigan State (25-8) — though the Spartans don’t lack for guards/wings either, with players such as all-conference point guard Appling (13.6 points, 3.5 assists), Big Ten Freshman of the Year Harris (12.9 points) and Lew Wallace graduate Dawson (9.4 points, 6.0 rebounds).
“They can play different ways,” Drew said. “We’ve seen them play the two bigs, we’ve seen them play only one with four more perimeter players. So we know they’re very versatile. It will matter — if they’re really hurting us, we might have to go bigger to try to rebound and try to stay with them. But that’s what makes it exciting, is you never know until you get out there and see how the game’s going.
“They can beat you in so many different ways — they can beat you on the perimeter, they can beat you inside, they can beat you on defense, they can beat you on the boards, they can beat you in transition. There’s so many different factors. It’s not really one or two that, hey, if we do this, we have a great chance. It’s a collective effort, everyone across the board, trying to keep alive those different areas.”
The Crusaders have caught the Spartans’ attention with their style of play, their senior-laden team that is “hungry” not to play its last game, the coaching “legacy” of Drew, and their 16 wins in their last 18 games (since a Horizon League-opening loss to Loyola).
“When you look at that, that’s scary,” said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, adding he anticipated the Crusaders could play some zone and likely will trap in the post in an attempt to combat the Spartans’ size.
“We think we have to really stop their offense. … Efficient team, efficient offense. Trying to get a gauge on some teams they’ve played is a little harder, but at the same time, they played some quality people on the road and lost a few of those games, but showed up, showed up big-time.”
Izzo also was complimentary toward Ryan Broekhoff, describing him as “a big-time player” who could succeed at a lot of schools. He noted that while Broekhoff typically doesn’t post up, he praised the 6-7 senior’s ability to grab a defensive rebound and lead the break like a guard.
“They have a four-man that at first I thought was like (Deshaun) Thomas from Ohio State,” Izzo said of Broekhoff. “But he puts it on the floor and moves a lot differently; Thomas doesn’t do those things. This kid is actually more effective in that way, yet he scores and shoots it at a very high level.”
Payne, as well as Dawson, could be Michigan State’s primary defenders against Broekhoff.
“He’s a great shooter, he goes both ways,” Payne said. “He’s got a quick trigger like Thomas, and he puts it on the floor going both ways like (Indiana’s Christian) Watford. So he’s going to be a tough cover. I’m just going to have to buckle down and get ready to trail these pindowns.”
Broekhoff was expecting the usual broad focus from the opponent, ranging from bigger, more physical players to more athletic, quicker players; centers through point guards have draw the assignment against him.
“We might not be the biggest team in America, but we play hard and we’re physical, and we leave it all out on the court,” Broekhoff said.