Freshman Drew Neitzel got the start over senior Chris Hill at the point guard position. While Hill's struggles to run the offense have been well documented, MSU coach Tom Izzo has tried his best to support Hill and rebuild his confidence. Izzo was careful not to say the move was permanent and assured all involved that everyone would play the same amount of minutes.
Still, he knew that he couldn't continue to ignore the troubling trend. Hill simply was unable to protect the basketball at key stretches of MSU's ballgames and trying to give him more exposure under pressure was only exacerbating the situation.
While Neitzel didn't set the world on fire in his 16 minute stint, he did, at a key juncture in the game, show the ability to run the offense.
With Iowa cutting Michigan State's lead from 21 points down to three, Izzo inserted Neitzel for Hill. The freshman responded by breaking down a defender and setting up junior Paul Davis for a basket that gave MSU some much needed breathing room. It was his only assist of the game, but it couldn't have come at a better - and more pressure-packed juncture.
Hill is a fine player and would be outstanding in a complimentary role. He is a solid outside shooter, if a little streaky at times. He can handle the ball, but he simply doesn't handle the extreme pressure situations well. Neitzel appeared to relish his time on the floor in crunch time and will become more of an offensive threat as he gets more comfortable.
Izzo had to do something to counteract the trend of losing ball games to ranked teams and inserting Neitzel to take some of the load of Hill is a solid first step. Senior Tim Bograkos also appears to be ready to step up and handle some of the load.
MSU is a team that should have Final Four aspiriations. They have all the ingredients to make a run - good outside shooting, talented scorers and a big man who can both score and rebound. Izzo was right to act now to get a handle on the turnover problems and the inability to finish games.
If Neitzel shows he can handle the job, with some help from his teammates, Izzo can't - and won't - be afraid to bench Hill or any other player to get the turnover problem solved. Solving the problem will pay dividends both this year and into next when Lima, OH high school senior Travis Walton provides another solid ball handler to the MSU lineup.