Brown energizes Spartans with strong finishes
ST. LOUIS OK, we get it. North Carolina has the best fast break in the country, the quickest from end-to-end to flush, from Raymond Felton to Sean May to a little David Noel sprinkled in, too.
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But if you're given the choice for one player to finish on a break, and you need to send a message with a signature slam, then give us Shannon Brown of Michigan State.
The lesser-hyped MSU break isn't too far behind the Tar Heels. MSU doesn't get tons of chances to show off its flash, but when it does, it can send a chilling statement.
Especially if it's Brown, who leads the team with 20 dunks, on the business end.
"He's one of the best I've seen [at throwing it down]," Michigan State freshman point guard Drew Neitzel said. "I just throw it up there and either Shannon or Mo [Ager] go get it and make a spectacular play. That's what a point guard dreams about so he could make a play like that."
The 6-foot-4 Brown has bulked up more this season and does like to finish with authority. He has the one-handed jam down pat. He lifts off his right foot, elevates and punishes teams on the break.
He had a stick-back on the break against Kentucky. He put one down against Old Dominion. He did the same to Vermont.
"It energizes your defense and all of a sudden it picks up your pressure defense in the half court and you feel like you can go out on a 6-0 or 8-0 run," Michigan State assistant coach Mark Montgomery said.
So why does Brown finish so well?
"It's his hands," Montgomery said. "We can't teach how he can jump off one foot, either. We tell our guys that what makes our break is the first two steps at the other end. How you get out on the block determines how fast you're going to get the ball. We work on our break two or three times a day in practice."
Montgomery said the Spartans take a certain pride in their fast break and do feel a bit slighted. He points out that Michigan State and Illinois have two of the best fast breaks in the country, yet are overshadowed by North Carolina's.
"We don't get the credit we deserve for our running game because everyone thinks the Big Ten is only about defense," Montgomery said. "Everyone thinks the ACC runs better than the Big Ten. But we were scoring in the 70s and 80s. We get the ball to our wings as soon as they cross halfcourt. Shannon Brown, Kelvin Torbert and Alan Anderson know what to do when they have to finish."
Brown just does it with a bit more emphasis.
"It always gives us momentum," Brown said. "And it helps our confidence. We can consistently run, and if we run our break the correct way, we'll be successful [Saturday]."
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.