EAST LANSING, Mich. – Halloween was a couple of days ago, but Tom Izzo will be dressed as a scientist tonight. He might not be a mad scientist, but Izzo will be experimenting with lineups when Michigan State hosts Division II Saginaw Valley in the Spartans’ final exhibition game.
Tip-off is 7 p.m. at the Breslin Center.
Izzo wants to see more of point guards Tum Tum Nairn Jr. and Cassius Winston playing at the same time after the combination showed promise last week against Northwood. Injuries to interior players Ben Carter and Gavin Schilling have Izzo thinking about different ways to best utilize his personnel. Playing the junior Nairn and freshman Winston together is one of those options.
“I was kind of pleased with that,” said Izzo on Tuesday after practice. “Tum’s a guy that can cover a lot of people. Unless they post them up. Not a lot of colleges go to (two point guards) a lot. But him and Cassius have a unique bond between them. It’s really cool. I think Tum knows that Cassius is pushing him in different ways but Tum is Tum.”
Nairn played 23 minutes against Northwood, scoring eight points, grabbing four rebounds and having two assists and no turnovers. Winston played 24 minutes in his first college game. He scored nine points, making four of five field-goal attempts, with two rebounds, nine assists, three turnovers and two steals. Winston (6-feet, 185 pounds) was Michigan’s Mr. Basketball last season after leading University of Detroit Jesuit to the Class A state championship. Nairn (5-10, 175) is coming off a season interrupted by plantar fasciitis in his right foot.
The right foot is no longer an issue after Nairn had surgery in the offseason to correct the problem.
“It meant we missed so much energy, just pure energy,” said senior guard Eron Miles of Nairn’s injury. “We missed a defensive leader. We had some guys on the floor like myself and Denzel (Valentine) that were out there talking and knowing offenses and defenses, but Tum would have made that a third guy, a floor general.”
Nairn and Winston have different styles. Nairn is quicker and a vigilant defender, while Winston is bigger and has surprised Izzo this preseason with how good of an outside shooter he is. Those differences make the on-court pairing possible.
“We had the same thing my freshman year with Travis Trice and Tum,” junior forward Kenny Goins said. “Everyone was kind of questioning how that would work because Travis was the starting point guard and Tum came in. Everyone is freaking out asking all these questions. It seemed to work out perfectly fine so I don’t see a problem with it.”
Nairn was the freshman understudy then to the senior Trice. The two were roommates for road games on a team that reached the Elite Eight.
“He took me under his wing. When I was in practice, and any time I did something wrong, he pulled me aside and helped me fix my problems. That’s how our relationship got stronger,” Nairn said. “I enjoyed playing with Cass. He has a great feel for the game, a high basketball IQ. If I get a rebound, he can run the wing. If he gets a rebound, I can run the wing.
“We’ve got different games. I’m faster. He’s more of a pacey guard. I think it can be good for us with how we can play against different teams. We can show them different attacks.”
There’s been no ego tug-of-war for control of the ball or the team from its two point guards. The Spartans are going to need both in order to be successful.
“The thing about this team is that no one has any grudges against anyone else,” Winston said. “Tum Tum’s a guard, the starting point guard for this team, but it’s not like he hates me for being here. He loves me, he embraces me and he wants me to be the best I can be.
“We’ve got a lot of dudes like that. Eron Harris doesn’t hate (freshman) Josh Langford for coming to this school. He wants him to be the best he can be. We are going to be the best we can be together.”
- Tonight’s opponent: Saginaw Valley State is ranked No. 4 in the Division II preseason national coaches poll after reaching the Elite Eight national tournament last season.
- Izzo wasn’t happy with how the team played defense against Northwood. It’s an area he wants to see improvement in against Saginaw Valley State. “What I do like about the Division II teams is that they run their stuff well. They run it better than some Division I teams that rely more on talent. We’re going to have to guard a bunch of different sets, a bunch of different things.”
- Izzo said Langford will not play in the exhibition because of a sore hamstring. Langford also did not play against Northwood in a precautionary move.
- There will be three or four different lineups that Izzo said he wants to look at during this game, including using Nairn and Winston at the same time. He also has a “big” lineup featuring Goins, Harris, and freshmen Miles Bridges and Nick Ward.
- The regular season starts Nov. 11 in Hawaii against Arizona in the Armed Forces Classic.
Kevin Goheen covers Michigan State for Landof10.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CincyGoGo