Mid-Term Serves Spartans Some Lessons, but Also Raises Some Questions

Jonathan Schopp

For the Spartans, the Texas trip served as a bit of a “mid-term” exam. Though they didn’t pass, I don’t believe we can honestly say they failed horribly. Texas just wouldn’t be denied last night, so give them credit. The Longhorns are playing the best ball of any College team in the country right now, and obviously had a “once in a program” type week, beating powerhouse programs MSU and UNC. 


Tom Izzo Knows Where he is Taking His Team in 2010
Tom Izzo Knows Where he is Taking His Team in 2010

Texas had the Spartans right where they wanted them, at home in front of an Austin crowd, and coming off their biggest non-conference victory in years. If you take a reasonable perspective, the Horns were naturally the hungrier team, having lost to MSU in the last three straight. Had last night’s game been played at Breslin, the Spartan Nation would’ve expected, if not demanded, that MSU beat Texas. So it isn’t really fair to suggest MSU should’ve won that game, or laid some kind of egg down south last night. That’s not excusing the loss, but it is recognizing that the Spartans lost to the hottest team in the nation, on their court.


Without writing a complete recap on the game again, Rick Barnes team came out in the 2nd half and played like they were inspired by Jr. Kalin Lucas’ newest tattoo. If you recall, the Spartans floor leader got some new ink over the summer that simply says “Attack or Be Killed.” The Longhorns seemed to take that to heart last night somewhere around the middle of the 2nd half. Riding a bit of home court momentum and taking advantage of a couple fortuitous bounces in their favor, the Horns’ lead widened as the half carried on, until the Spartans were soundly put away. Texas attacked Michigan St. But rather than rather than directly attack back, a few too many Spartans seemed to try to go around a couple of Longhorns, which did not work. In fact, it led to a few empty possessions, which only fed their growing momentum, and further incited more intensity out of the emotional Texas squad.


Approximately mid-way through the 2009-2010 campaign, this Spartan team is showing some of the signs of development we’re accustomed to seeing out of Tom Izzo teams. Player’s roles are beginning to take a firmer shape, which is an overlooked key to getting a team to play together, and at its best. The best Izzo teams have had players fall into their roles cohesively, while the few underachieving ones have seen players struggle to find an identity and comfortable role.


At this point, the Spartan Nation can appreciate what graduated last season, with the loss of Suton, Walton, and the like. The loss of Goran Suton has showed up already this year, and perhaps at no point more clearly that last night in Texas. It appears that So. Draymond Green might play the role most similar to that of Suton in the past couple of years. And it will be interesting to see what kind of playmaker Green can develop into while operating in the half-court offense. In the past two years, the MSU half-court attack seemed to run best when it ran through Suton. Yet, with Green playing the role of a 6th man right now, it remains to be seen just how much of that “Point Forward” type game Green might get to display the rest of the way. His ability to help operate the offense down low should be a key to MSU’s offensive consistency.


The Spartans have looked sleek and sharp when playing both So. Korie Lucious and Jr. Kalin Lucas in the back court. Playing Lucious at the Point and Lucas at the “Two” gives MSU a decisive speed and shooting edge. It has been tough for teams to guard. And while that combination might even work as a starting back court, it would potentially put MSU in a tricky spot later in a game. If the Spartans started Lucas and Lucious, they would likely be left to play considerable minutes with either a fatigued Point Guard, or really no Point Guard at all. Anyone that was around during the early 00s probably doesn’t want to see that happen again. 


Perhaps Tom Izzo can find a way to get more out of Jr. Chris Allen. Allen has struggled so far in the bigger games, against better competition. Whether he’s short on size, strength, or has yet to clear a mental hurdle, his contributions in the bigger games have caused concern. Allen must continue to get stronger as a ball handler, to have any chance to help Lucious and Lucas by possibly taking the ball up the court for on a couple trips.


Though Allen has continued to struggle with playing consistently during a game, his production will be relied upon in this coming Big Ten season and post-season run. At this point, his ultimate worth has yet to be proven. It’s still a bit of an unknown, and he must know that. It’s time for Allen to put it all together and come into games with a purpose. He needs to get in, play smart, hit shots, and then get out. Avoiding the bad mental error on either end of the court could really give this team a boost. His development and contribution level from here will go a long way in determining how the Spartans ultimately end up the ‘09-‘10 year. 


Defense and rebounding remain the foundation that Tom Izzo’s Michigan St. Basketball has been built on. Unlike some of the “softer” past squads, this one looks like it’s got a bunch of players who won’t be afraid to mix it up and “bang-bang-bang” around the cage to grab the boards and loose balls. Where appropriate, it is that killer instinct that great teams have to impose their will on an opponent that often separates a good team from a great one. MSU will need to find that gear as the non-conference season wraps up, and the Big Ten campaign gets ready to go. Last year’s team developed that during the year, and created a truly magical season. But that season is long over now. It’s not just as easy to turn it on again by flipping a switch. Just ask the ’05-‘06 team.


The Spartans know what is ahead of them now. After finishing the non-conference with Texas-Arlington, they will hit the meat of their schedule with the Big Ten games. With both big Freshmen coming along decently, a couple of Sophomores primed to begin playing at another level, a set of Juniors now in a position of leadership, and a star Senior in Raymar Morgan determined to end his college career on his terms, the second half of the regular season should be interesting for Spartan Basketball. 


They shouldn’t have to look too long or far for inspiration. They saw it last night in the 2nd half at Texas, and they see it everyday on their team leader’s right arm. “Attack or Be Killed”…it seems simple enough. As the winter unwinds into spring, we’ll see if these Spartans get the message.


Jon Schopp serves as a Spartan Nation contributor.  Schopp has a media background and is a highly respected attorney along with being a Spartan Nation writer.
Jon Schopp serves as a Spartan Nation contributor. Schopp has a media background and is a highly respected attorney along with being a Spartan Nation writer.