November 29, 2011

ACC Challenge on Green's Bucket List

EAST LANSING - Michigan State senior Draymond Green has had a highly-accomplished career - including two trips to the Final Four, an appearance in the National Championship game, two Big Ten titles and a triple-double in an NCAA Tournament game.

But he wants to add an new bullet point to his basketball resume on Wednesday when Michigan State (4-2) plays host to Florida State (5-2) as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge (7:30 p.m./ESPN).

"The Big Ten won the Big Ten/ACC Challenge last year and the year before, and I feel like I have not contributed to the Big Ten winning that Challenge yet," Green said.

Michigan State lost at Duke last season and at North Carolina the year before as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Big Ten won both challenges but Green doesn't feel like he was part of the party.

"I haven't won one yet, and that is something to mark off the bucket list," Green said. "So it's my last chance to do it. I want this a lot. This is a huge game for me, and if it's a huge game for me it's a huge game for my team."

Senior Austin Thornton agreed.

"We've been getting our butt kicked by the ACC, so we need to get a win against that conference," Thornton said.

MSU opened this season with losses to North Carolina in the Carrier Classic in San Diego, and to Duke at the Champions Classic in New York City.

"It's a tough conference and Florida State is a tough team, and some people had them picked ahead of Duke in their conference," Thornton said. "So they are a good team, big and athletic so it is going to be a tough game."

Big Dunk For A.P.

During Monday's practice, sophomore power forward Adreian Payne rammed the rim with an oh-my-goodness dunk.

Payne came in from the right with for the put-back dunk. He soared high above the rim, collected the carom with his right hand, and kept his arm straight as he powered the ball back through the rim in windmill fashion.

The dunk drew practice-pausing oohs and ahhs from his teammates, something never before witnessed by this reporter.

"That was amazing," said Keith Appling. "Man, that was a plus-plus dunk. I've never seen nothing like that before. That's something Dwight Howard would probably do."

What did Payne say about it?

"It was just instinct," he said. "Rebound and go ahead and hit it."

Did Payne expect that reaction from his teammates?

"Not at all," Payne said. "But it was tight."

This coming after Payne had one of his more productive games of the young season, posting 12 points and 8 rebounds in a 72-40 victory at Eastern Michigan on Sunday.

"Adreian is definitely coming along," Appling said. "He is getting better day by day."

Green-Izzo Confab

Following practice on Monday, while some player met with media and others hit the weight room with strength coach Mike Vorkapich, Draymond Green took a seat next to Tom Izzo in the first row of seats at Breslin Center. The two had what looked like a deep, friendly talk which went longer than 25 minutes.

"The next game is a big game for our season, so (we're) just trying to figure out everything within the team and how we're going to execute and how we're going to win this game," Green said.

Was Izzo doing most of the talking, and Green doing most of the listening, or was it give-and-take?

"It's always give-and-take," Green said. "We have the type of relationship to where I know everything he says is right; at least that's the way I feel. And I've been watching some film and stuff and just going to him about some things that I think can work for us."

Appling On The Push

Appling has been getting positive feedback from the coaching staff about the progress he is making at point guard.

Appling, who led the team in 3-point shooting a year ago as a spot-starter at the shooting guard position, now plays more than 85 percent of his minutes at the point.

On Sunday at Eastern Michigan, Appling had 11 points and 5 assists with no turnovers.

"I feel my point guard play has gotten better game to game," Appling said after practice on Monday. "We started out against some of the best teams in the country, and I feel like it should get better as the season goes along. I just have to keep coming in, watching film, working on my game and playing hard."

When watching film of Sunday's victory, Appling said he noticed a difference in his pace of play in the second half as opposed to the first half. At halftime of that game, Izzo said he threatened to pull Appling if he didn't push it harder.

"I definitely saw it (on film)," Appling said. "In the first half, I was just kind of pushing it to get it up the court. But in the second half, I was pushing it to score a little bit. It opened up a lot of things for myself and my team."

Does Appling like getting challenged like that?

"Not really, but it kind of helps," Appling said.

Izzo said he wants to get the highest RPMs possible out of Appling, whom he said can push it better than any point guard he has had since Mateen Cleaves, when he's on.

"Mateen is in the Hall of Fame here," Appling said. "To be put in the same category as him is amazing. It makes me feel great."

As for Wednesday's game, Izzo will try to get Appling in push mode from the beginning.

"Something coach has been preaching all last week and at the beginning of this week is to push the ball because their transition defense isn't that good," Appling said of Florida State.

Green Pushing The Buttons

Green relishes his role as the leading vocal statesman on the team. In the past, he may have had to share quote-unquote leadership responsibilities with others who may or may not have done everything necessary to offer satisfactory direction.

Now, DayDay runs unopposed. And he enjoys pushing teammates' buttons.

"You have to use different tactics with different people," he said with a Magic Johnson grin. "It takes something different to fire everyone up."

Take freshman Branden Dawson for example.

"The way to fire up B.J." Green said of Dawson, "is to tell him he can't defend. It fires him up and makes him want to prove his manhood. That's how I fire B.J. up. I say, 'You can't check. Plain and simple.'

"I tell him, 'B.J., you can't rebound.' And that will get him going to the glass extra hard."

Any other hot button items with other players?

"I tell A.P, 'You can't do that better than I can,'" Green said of Payne. "He always wants to compete with me, so I just tell him he can't do something better than me, and it makes him do it."

What About The Shooting?

Michigan State ranks 11th in the Big Ten in shooting percentage, a statistical category in which the Spartans have struggled since shooting 30 percent in the season opener against North Carolina, outdoors on the USS Vinson at the Carrier Classic.

The Spartans are coming off their best field goal percentage outing of the young season. Michigan State shot 48.3 percent at Eastern Michigan on Sunday, thanks in part to a healthy complement of run-outs and fast-break finishes.

The Spartans are dead last in the Big Ten in 3-point shooting at 23 percent.

Appling led MSU from 3-point range at 41 percent a year ago. He is shooting 30 percent from long range this year, and was 0-for-1 at EMU.

"We're going to get better," Appling said of MSU's shooting> "We just have to get in and keep getting shots up."

Green, a pretty good shooter in the past who was expected to take his shooting up a level this year, has instead regressed as a shooter. He is just 3-of-17 from 3-point range (17 percent) this year, and did not have a good shooting day at practice on Monday.

"The only way I know how to shoot better is to keep on shooting, staying in the gym working on it and eventually it will fall," Green said. "I mean I'm shooting 36 percent (overall on the year). It's a struggle. But if I stop shooting I will finish the season 36 percent. The only way to come out of it is to keep on shooting."

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