March 15, 2011

Summers: 'Lets go to work'

EAST LANSING - With the next stage of the new season under way, Tom Izzo already notices some subtle changes in his team.

First of all, the injury-plagued Spartans were as fresh, healthy and snappy in practice Monday as at any time, basically, all season. And mentally, they seemed more at ease too, especially enigmatic senior forward Durrell Summers.

"I think Durrell has a smile on his face today," Izzo said. "He must be like me, March is an exciting month for him."

No. 10 seed Michigan State will face No. 7 seed UCLA in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday in Tampa.

Summers was named Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Regional last year in helping lead Michigan State to its eighth Final Four in school history. Summers was seen as an All-America candidate heading into the season, but struggled with his shot, as well as with ball handling and defense. He fell out of the starting lineup in late February.

Summers didn't make a 3-pointer in Michigan State's 74-56 upset of No. 9 ranked Purdue on Friday, but he chipped in with 8 rebounds, quality defense, and six points.

Against Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament Semifinals, he started with a bang, nailing two early 3-pointers and finishing a dunk. But he asked to come out of the game for a brief rest, and didn't quite get back on track the rest of the day, finishing 4-of-12 from the field. His 11 points were respectable, but the opening minutes of that game suggested he can still carry an offense as a go-to guy.

After practice on Monday, he told media that he believes he has recovered his offensive stroke, and he apologized to MSU fans for his disappointing season.

Izzo has a good feeling about the 6-foot-5 Detroiter.

"I really think he is going to play well. Who am I? I'm not a prophet. But I think a lot of his is always mental and emotional and I think emotionally he is in the right state right now.

"He was averaging 11 last year and he went to 19 (in the tournament), so if he can go from 7 to 16, I'll be just fine with it. I think it's all up to him, I really do. He came up to me today, and he kind of said, 'There's been a lot of pressure on me. The hell with it. Let's go to work.'"

And the rest of the team.

"I think Kalin and DayDay understand where they're at," Izzo said. "So it (the first day of preparation) was good."

Tightening The Screws

Izzo is known as one of the most successful NCAA Tournament coaches in the country, and frankly one of the best in the history of college basketball.

If he could put into one word what he tries to get from his team to give them the edge at this time of year, he said: "Focus. Focus is usually the most."

During Monday's practice, the focus level of super-talented but too-casual freshman Adreian Payne was an area of attention for Izzo.

"That's why A.P. is struggling right now, and if I don't kill him I'll probably play him a little," Izzo said, half-joking.

Payne has started the last three games, but logged only 7, 10 and 8 minutes in those games. He had six important points in eight minutes during MSU's stammering victory over Iowa in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.

Since the end of the regular season, Izzo has gone with a lineup that has featured junior Delvon Roe coming off the bench. Bringing Roe off the bench serves as a way of curtailing Roe's minutes and the wear and tear on his problematic knees. Payne has been a solid option in the opening minutes of games, but Izzo wants to be able to rely on him a little bit more when it comes to important factors away from the ball, such as playing with more urgency as a screener, and making better decisions with the ball.

"It's understanding the focus you need," Izzo said. "Usually, one or two points is going to be the difference in the game. The missed free throws, the missed hook shot, the missed this or that makes a difference. I don't want guys to be paranoid but I want guys to understand that one-and-done means one-and-done, and over history, 90 percent of tournament games are pretty close games."



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