Michigan State got the win in its first game being ranked No. 1 since 2000-01 on Tuesday against Portland.
Here are some thoughts and highlights from the game:
**The improvement in Denzel Valentine's shot is impressive. He has spent a lot of time working on cleaning it up and he has become a decent shooter for the Spartans. He also takes it with more confidence.
**On the other hand, Valentine has to do much better with body control driving and getting in the paint. He hesitates and it results in a lot of turnovers or forced shots. He is an important player off the bench that MSU needs to contribute.
**Speaking of improved jump shots, Keith Appling has been shooting really well to start the season. His jumper against zone defenses has been key and with the way the rules have changed, could continue to be huge all season. He can take pressure off Gary Harris.
**One thing was clear in this game: Izzo is trying to find the pieces that fit. Alvin Ellis came in early and Alex Gauna was in the starting lineup. Gavin Schilling didn't see as much time as might have been expected. But it was clear that Izzo is trying to find the lineups that work, which is exactly what this time of year is for.
**Russell Byrd didn't play at all. It looks like Ellis might have passed Byrd for now.
**Kenny Kaminski got in for his first career minutes, but interestingly it was at the five. Kaminski has been praised for his pure shooting abilities by Izzo numerous times, so that's an interesting way to use him. I assumed he would be more of a back up to Payne/Dawson than Costello/Gauna/Schilling.
**The second half came out with a message. Izzo must have lit into his players at halftime to push the ball up the court more. There also was a stronger effort to get the ball inside and work inside out. That is where Izzo would like to see more 3-pointers result from opposed to quick 3s in transition.
**Appling is having a great start to his senior season. His shot is worlds better and his vision is much better, too. As Izzo has been saying about Dawson and Harris, Appling might finally be playing like the player he recruited.
**Dawson and Appling had back-to-back great looks to Costello. Dawson pulled down a good offensive board, which he dropped on a no-look pass to Costello. The next possession, Appling was facing some pressure by half-court and threw a two-handed over-the-head pass down low to Costello, who was wide-open. Great vision and teamwork on both plays.
**Harris has been more aggressive going to the hoop in this game compared to others this season. That's the part of his game Izzo has said people will see more of.
Keith Appling on the No. 1 ranking:
"I don't pay attention to No. 1. I didn't even know we were ranked No.1. I had to ask our equipment manager if the rankings came out today. I don't think it means nothing. It's great that there's people out there that respect us as a team and respect our program, but that wasn't one of our goals coming into the season. If we were ranked No.1, it's fine, but if we weren't, it's still fine. We got other things we want to accomplish and we've still got to get better as a team."