Wow! Two impressive games in a row for the Spartans on the biggest stage, you have to give them credit. But more importantly you ought to give Tom Izzo credit.
I have been Tom Izzoâ€™s biggest critic all season I admit that. I called for him to bench Neitzel and play Kalin Lucas more and like a good coach he ignored me and Neitzel remembered that he could shoot. Iâ€™ve complained and complained and said that Izzo had to show me he could coach this talented group. Well coach, I get it: Point proven.
During the regular season I grew frustrated with Izzoâ€™s substitution patterns. He kept Durrell Summers on the shortest leash Iâ€™ve ever seen. He had two 7-footers on the bench that he never used in Idong and Herzog. I forgot that Isaiah Dahlman was even on the team. For a team that was supposed to have so much depth, they only seemed to go 7 or 8 deep, with Lucas and Chris Allen seeing regular playing time and an occasional glimpse of Marquise Gray. I criticized his in-game coaching skills for not being able to counter what the other team was doing. But the first two games of this tournament have shown that Izzo was just biding his time until he got to the games that matter the most.
In wins over Temple and Pitt, Izzo has given consistent minutes to Idong Ibok, and he has provided rebounding and defense like heâ€™s supposed to. But perhaps most importantly, he has allowed Drew Naymick and Goran Suton to rest on the bench and stay fresh. While Durrell Summersâ€™ name may not pop out at you on the stat sheet, he brings a much needed shot of athleticism and perimeter defense to a team that at time needs a dose of both. Getting more playing time in the most important games of the year can only boost the freshmanâ€™s confidence for the rest of the tourney and heading into next season. Travis Walton is also coming off the bench to provide physical, perimeter defense and run the show at the other end while giving Lucas or Neitzel a breather. As another Spartannation writer pointed out to me: How many NCAA Tournament teams have THREE quality point guards? The answer is none. And we canâ€™t forget the outside shooting of Allen, who will be used more when teams try to zone up against us. And once Grayâ€™s toe is 100% this team will go 10 deep, causing match-up problems for any team it goes up against.
As CBS reported, Izzoâ€™s plays are starting to look a lot better too. Every play that MSU runs has multiple options for it, like an NBA team. Neitzel can come off a screen and shoot it, swing it to an open man on the perimeter, or throw it over the top to a cutting big man for a dunk. These plays donâ€™t look as smooth against Big 10 opponents who have seen them for years and see them twice a year. But against teams from other conferences who have never seen them on the court, these plays can be quite effective.
Who knows what the future brings for this MSU squad. A Sweet 16 trip was an automatic assumption when the season started, but the Spartans have earned it. Now they go up against Goliath, the number one team in the country, the Memphis Tigers (Iâ€™m making the safe bet the Memphis beats Mississippi St.). Some say the ride stops here, and MSU will be brought back to earth. Others say that MSU matches up VERY well with Memphis and could actually pull out a win. Who knows? But one thing is for sure: With Izzo at the helm, anything is possible in March. Shame on all of us who doubted him.Â Â Â