March 17, 2012

Appling's defense on Mitchell will be key

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Priority one for Michigan State's defense against Saint Louis on Sunday will be to contain Billikens combo guard Kwamain Mitchell.

The 5-foot-10 Mitchell was Saint Louis's primary offensive weapon during the Billikins' 61-54 victory over Memphis, Friday in the Round-of-64. Mitchell scored 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting.

Mitchell, a junior from Milwaukee, did damage from deep (4-of-7 from 3-point range) and was also a constant problem for Memphis when working off handoffs in the backcourt, leading to stop-and-go drives against helping big men.

"Mitchell is the guy who stirs the drink and creates things," Izzo said. "He does it in different ways."

Mitchell was Saint Louis's second-leading scorer on the season, averaging 12.4 per game after sitting out last year due to a suspension. He led the Billikens in scoring as a sophomore in 2010 at 15.9 points per game.

"We're concerned about some of our matchups, but on the other side of it we think a big key is going to be Mitchell and containing him," Izzo said. "And that's what we're going to try to do."

The Spartans have excelled defensively this year in part to having a plus defender at point guard in sophomore Keith Appling. Izzo credited Appling with helping handcuff LIU Brooklyn point guard Jason Brickman on Friday night.

"I think it's always important that you've got somebody dealing with the quarterback of the other team," Izzo said. "I think one thing that went unknown here (Friday night) was the job Keith Appling did on Brickman. I thought he did a heck of a job on Brickman. Keith gets 10, this and that, but it's his defense on Brickman, because that guy has really chewed up some people and got other people involved. We did not let him penetrate much. And we did not let him do much on the break."

Mitchell is a different type of player. He will begin the game as an off guard while 6-foot sophomore Mike McCall handles the point.

Near the first TV time out, Saint Louis usually moves Mitchell to the point and bring tough defensive stopper Jordair Jett off the bench to play the two and match up on whichever opposing perimeter player is causing a problem.

Meanwhile, MSU will be more forward with its approach. Appling will be on Mitchell. There will be times when Brandon Wood and even Austin Thornton spend time on Mitchell after switches, which will be plentiful when Saint Louis's employs certain variations and patterns of its heavy-screening motion offense. But Mitchell will largely be Appling's property.

"Most likely I'll be the one to defend him," Appling said. "He's a pretty good player. He makes a lot of things happen for his team. So it's going to be a pretty tough matchup for myself, and we just have to go into tomorrow very focused and prepared to play hard for 40 minutes."

Memphis defended handoffs well, initially, by hedging mobile big men onto Mitchell after handoffs. But Mitchell was so fast and persistent with the dribble, that his ability to change speeds and hesitate and then resume his drive to the rim was often effective.

Michigan State will hedge and feather briefly with big men as temporary helpers on handoffs. But Appling's ability to get over screens and hustle back to Mitchell is exquisite.

"We think Appling is getting better each and every game," Izzo said. "The one thing Appling has been pretty solid and steady at, he can defend just about anybody. And I think it's going to be a heck of a matchup and a big part of this game."

Izzo Unplugged

Izzo on:

  • Saint Louis's overall style of play:

    "I compare them more to a Wisconsin from the standpoint of they grind you, they get after you defensively. They're solid. They don't make a lot of mistakes. Offensively they run a ton of ball screens and create some problems."

  • On Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus:

    "I have tremendous respect for Rick. His teams are always tough, well disciplined. They don't make a lot of mistakes. They don't beat themselves. They're very solid and fundamental. And the post players are as fundamental as anybody in the country. I think that has been something he hangs his hat on, if you watch them post up. If you watch their moves, they're very, very good and very, very solid.

    "I think they're a physical, tough team, and (Dwayne) Evans, (Brian) Conklin, those guys are not real, real big, but very, very physical.� And I think Rick's done a hell of a job with this team."

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