By Adam Biggers
Derrick Nix was a key to the Michigan State Spartans' success this year, and he should be even more valuable next season.
The slimmed-down, 6-foot-9, 270-pound junior improved his overall game, but relied mostly on his sheer girth to power his way to baskets around the rim. Nix, who played his prep ball at Detroit Pershing, helped re-establish a post game the Spartans lacked for years.
In the past, Nix appeared to play below his potential. He would get frustrated and put himself in foul trouble. But this season, Nix fouled out just once (74-69 loss to Duke) and demonstrated a matured comprehension of his role with the Spartans and improved understanding of the game in general.
Nix put up nearly eight points per game as the Spartans marched their way into the Sweet 16, more than doubling his average from his sophomore season of 2.7 points per game.
Nix's left-handed hook near the basket was the best weapon in his arsenal. However, he was able to attack the basket and rebound the ball with more authority, too.
A main concern is consistency, though. While Nix quickly became a fan favorite this season, he didn't have the game most would have expected him to Thursday, when the Spartans fell 57-44 to the fourth-seeded Louisville Cardinals in a Sweet 16 battle in Phoenix.
Nix had four points and four rebounds in 19 minutes, but was a non-factor in the paint. The Cardinals became one of few teams to out-rebound the Spartans this year and seemingly eliminated any inside advantage the Spartans thought they had. Nix didn't have one foul Thursday. That could be viewed as disciplined play, but it could also suggest that Nix wasn't as aggressive as he should have been.
Typically a guard-driven offense, the Spartans greatly benefited from their inside game in 2011-12. Much of that success was due to Nix, who scored in double-figures 14 times, including a career-high 18 in the Spartans' 89-67 second-round tournament victory over LIU-Brooklyn.
He'll be a senior next season, and there are more guards on the way. However, the Spartans should remain committed to the inside game and further explore Nix's potential. He could become one of the most dominant big men in the Big Ten.
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