No Excuses…Spartans Getting Worse

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February 16, 2008

Bloomington, IN

Assembly Hall

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In the Spartan Nation we have become accustomed to Tom Izzo coached teams getting better as the season progresses. Infact, it is accepted as common knowledge that his teams will improve as the year goes on. Evidently Tom Izzo and the Spartan basketball team haven’t gotten the memo this year.

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This Spartan team peaked when it beat Texas and the slide began after Christmas break. Obviously you can’t say every kid is playing soft, but the traits that the Spartan Nation has become accustomed to are no longer there. That toughness? That attack mentality?

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This team has way more talent than last year’s team and to be frank: I don’t think these Spartans would beat last year’s Spartans. The irony? This team is essentially made up of last year’s guys and three freshmen with more talent than I have excess pounds.

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As the Spartan Nation has ranted and raved about this team I have been telling everyone to relax. Look at the record. Well after tonight that means nothing. This team was supposed to be a Big Ten champion. A top five team. A contender for the Final Four. Looking at them now, they are none of those things.

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They came into Assembly Hall tonight against a team on an emotional roller coaster. Like all season, they captured an early lead (11) and when IU lost their most important (not best) player (D.J. White), it was the Spartans that went backwards. They gave it up. Izzo said it best, “We played better with DJ White in the game.”Â

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There was blood in the water tonight and not just Kelvin Sampson’s. This was a wounded IU team that could have been dealt a lethal blow. The Spartans could have kept themselves in the title hunt. The Spartan teams of Izzo's past could smell blood in the water like a great white attracted to a wounded seal. Anyone remember the Spartans last year when they went to Madison and almost beat the Badgers? Remember the fight? Remember the way they never gave up and always continued to play? This team simply ran out of gas. How about North Carolina in the tournament? MSU had no business being in that game, but they were. Last year they played tough, tenacious and crisp in their sets and plays. This year, not even close.

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These Spartans are great kids. There isn’t one of them that you wouldn’t want to be your neighbor, employee or friend. This isn’t about being likeable. This is about winning. Tom Izzo told me last year before the season, “I am not real comfortable with taking a season off from expectations. I can deal with it, but next year will go right back to having big expectations.” Tom got his wish. The expectations are back. This team isn’t meeting them and you have to wonder why?Â

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This team is soft. This team isn’t tough and this team lacks a killer instinct. Three things that you couldn’t say about last year’s team. Three things you couldn’t say about previous Spartan teams. Dick Vitale is one of the nicest people that I have ever met and is known to be very conservative on the record when talking about teams, but even Dickie V lamented the lack of Spartan, “mental tenacity and toughness of the past.”Â

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Several weeks ago Tom Izzo said that the Spartans couldn’t commit over 12 turnovers in order to win a game. They had twelve at halftime tonight. They struggle to protect the ball. When was the last time a Spartan team was so careless with the ball?

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What is the problem? Any number of us have theories, I preached, I screamed and I yelled that last season was Tom Izzo’s best coaching job. In Izzo I trust, but if this team has more talent than it will take Izzo’s best coaching job to save the season. The success of this team rests on his shoulders.

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Tonight the numbers may have not eliminated the Spartans from a Big Ten title, but they did. The Big Ten title is out of reach. Now the Spartans have to improve because the Big Dance is the only place they can redeem themselves. A season that had high expectations. Expectations that they wanted.

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I don’t want to hear about the record. I don’t want to hear any excuses. Tom has built this program with no excuses. You could say that the losses at Iowa or Penn State maybe were over looked as the Spartans looked ahead. Not tonight. This is a game that MSU should have been up to the challenge and ready to win. They got on the gas early and let up. They gave a down Hoosier team new life and they took it.Â

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Tonight the blood was in the water. The Spartans rather than going for the kill, got out of the water, put on sun screen and got burned in Assembly Hall. The Spartans are 8-4 in the Big Ten and are looking at a 11-7 record in the Big Ten when you look ahead. That certainly is not acceptable this season. This isn’t last season. This isn’t Michigan.

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Last year's Spartans had eight losses in the Big Ten. I guess the good news for MSU is that this year's Spartans don’t have to play last year's.Â

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Tonight the Spartans got punched in the mouth and humiliated on national TV. Tonight Indiana took them to school with all the excuses in the world not too. Tonight the Hoosiers played like the Spartans of old.

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I saw an IU student with a Bring Back Bobby Shirt. I just want them to bring back Spartan basketball. What in the world has happened? Check out these stats from here in Bloomington:

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Raymar Morgan 3 points

Marquise Gray 0 points

Goran Suton 0 points

19 turnovers

Out rebounded 28-26

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Those are not stats that speak success. Now there are no more excuses. Just like 2005, this team has to step it up. Now is the time they have to dig deep and find the heart they had last year. I agree with Izzo when I asked him about this team compared to last. “It certainly isn’t the new guys.” Tom and I certainly agree.

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Bring back Spartan basketball!