Spartan Nation Basketball Weekly

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“M” is for March, and “March” is for Michigan St. Basketball

Get on your feet Spartan Nation it is March!  Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.

Get on your feet Spartan Nation it is March! Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.

March has always been a special month for the Spartan Nation. From conference clinching triumphs to classic tournament finishes on the game’s biggest stage, Spartan Basketball has become a central character in the annual production of March Madness.

This year’s Spartans find themselves beginning March with a wealth of opportunity. This weekend, they’ll play for a second straight Big Ten Championship. They’ll also play for seeding in the Big Dance, which should not be underestimated. Next week they’ll play in the Big Ten Exhibition Tournament (which may or may not be worth winning), before Selection Sunday, in 10 days time, will lay out the Spartans exact path to a sixth Final Four appearance in the last twelve years. 

That sixth trip to a Final Four in twelve years falls so easily off the tongue, but is so difficult to come by. As Head Coach Tom Izzo consistently reminds the Spartan Nation, Final Fours are not actually on the Spartans’ schedule. Izzo knows the 2010 Spartans have to get better in March to have any chance of going back to Indy for another Final Four. Decreasing the unnerving amount of recent turnovers remains the logical place to start.

“Our turnovers (against Purdue) were borderline ridiculous,” Izzo began, “we’ve had a couple games like that throughout the year, but had really cleaned it up our turnovers in the (previous) six or seven games.” The 22 turnover performance against Purdue was a clear step back. Even if MSU was overly fresh and amped from the week off, Izzo won’t tolerate that as an excuse or explanation to be so careless with the ball. As we get ready for March Madness, watch the correlation between the inevitable "big time" upsets and the losing team’s turnover total.

For the Spartans to get better through March, the Izzo knows they need a more consistency, and more out of their best players. “Like every team, when you get to this time of year, your best players have to play their best, your Quarterback has to play well,” Izzo repeated. “Right now probably the guys that have to bump it up this week would be Kalin and Durrell Summers.” 

Coming off an ankle injury, Lucas is looking to bring his game back to the level of last year’s special run, which included his “count it, and the foulllllllll”, shot of the ’09 tournament to beat Kansas in the game’s final seconds. Izzo was pleased with the efforts of other key players last Sunday at Purdue, and hopes they can build off it to make 2010 another memorable March. “It was really great to see Raymar Morgan and Draymond Green play so well, and Chris Allen has become one of our more consistent players, even though he didn’t score and didn’t get many shots (at Purdue),” Izzo revealed. “He really defended well, rebounded well, and ran the court well.” MSU needs at least three members of its “playing group” to play well to win the elimination games of March. Izzo knows the Spartans cannot afford for anyone to pull a disappearing act this month and realistically expect to make a drive for Indy.

Green’s Growing Role

A good chunk of MSU’s half-court Offense went through Draymond Green on Sunday in West Lafayette, which reminded the Spartan Nation of Goran Suton. It has long been thought that Green will one day develop into a Suton like player in that a good portion of the Spartans’ half-court attack could run through the “Dancing Bear” when he’s set up down low. Spartan Nation asked Coach Izzo earlier this week if we might expect to see more of that look during the rest of 2010.

“I definitely think you can run some offense through him, there’s no question,” Izzo explained. “I think it’s very important that we get Draymond Green the ball in the low post.” Perhaps the key phrase there was “low post.” Green’s performance got shaky earlier this year after he wandered a bit too far from his comfort zone. “He went a couple games where he made some shots, so he was stepping out a lot, which negated his rebounding and passing ability inside,” Izzo added. But against Purdue, the Sophomore from Saginaw returned to the Offensive balance in which he’s most effective. “I thought he did an incredible job of getting deep in the post and doing a little bit of both, inside and outside.”

While Green’s role will continue to develop over the next two years, Izzo said the Spartan Nation shouldn’t expect a significant change to the Spartans’ attack during this month’s stretch run. “You’ve gotta remember that Kalin Lucas has been the straw that’s stirred the drink in his Freshmen and Sophomore year,” Izzo reset. “The injury has made him a little more inconsistent later in the season, but I have all the faith that he’ll bounce back, and when he does, we’re going to be a much better team.” Yet, it is only encouraging that MSU is in the process of developing another savvy and playmaking post man with the unique skill set and basketball IQ to run Offensive sets from.  

The Nix Happening

One of the memorable moments of the 2010 season was the Freshmen moment of Derrick Nix. After getting off to a blazing start against Purdue Sunday, Nix apparently forgot where he was for a moment, and hilariously tried to follow up a botched dunk attempt. Nix hung on the rim as he reached up to grab the ball before it got out of reach. In the process, he looked like he was climbing the monkey bars on a school yard playground. It was not your everyday low post move. 

Unfortunately, it was also a Technical Foul. “It was a move where, since his new weight disappeared over the last six months, he’s not used to being up there,” Coach Izzo joked. “I think he was just frustrated that he missed it, and just didn’t think.” Spartan Nation wondered if the Tom Izzo of ten years ago would’ve reacted the same had someone like A.J. Granger (aka Mr. March, and a legendary Izzo whipping boy), hung on the rim and tried to finish off a “street ball” move while on the road with a Big Ten Championship hanging in the balance. “I don’t really think so,” Izzo chuckled, “if I thought it was a Hot Dog move, I would’ve jumped him (Nix), just like A.J., but I don’t think it was that.” 

Izzo also explained that a Coaches reaction to happens during a game is often more about what happens in practice. “What normally happens…with all Coaches…is that very few experienced Coaches get upset about things unless they’re things that happen in practice, then in a game.” Safe to assume Nix didn’t attempt his “jungle gym jam” in practice before last Sunday, and safe to assume he won’t try it again anytime soon.