The Spartan Nation Basketball Weekly
Will These Spartans Take the Next Step?
For years now, Head Coach Tom Izzo had told the Spartan Nation that the best Spartan teams are â€œplayer-coached teams,â€ not â€œcoach-coached teams.â€Â The 2011 Spartans arenâ€™t quite there yet, but do have that experience to rely on.Â If this team is going to really get this season moving, the leadership and chemistry on the court will have to improve significantly.
More important than experience, Tom Izzo believes the Spartans have to get their best players and leaders playing at a much better clip.Â â€œI donâ€™t think thereâ€™s any question that our best players have struggled at times, and not to put a lot on Draymond (Green), but heâ€™s our leader and in the (last three) three losses heâ€™s really struggled, and he knows it and understands it,â€ Izzo explained.
Izzo isnâ€™t as perplexed about which Spartans need to play better (Green, Kalin Lucas, and Durrell Summers primarily), but isnâ€™t sure exactly why his leaders and best players havenâ€™t done more on a night-in night-out basis.Â â€œOur leadership is okay, I donâ€™t think itâ€™s great,â€ Izzo repeated.Â â€œBut itâ€™s hard to lead too, when youâ€™re struggling yourself,â€ he said about Greenâ€™s recent slump.Â â€œItâ€™s harder to lead that wayâ€¦and harder to coach the team as a player that wayâ€¦but I donâ€™t think itâ€™s one guyâ€™s fault, thatâ€™s for sure.â€
Everyone in Spartan Nation knows itâ€™s now up to the players to pull together and save a season that started with talk of â€œNational Championship or bustâ€ from turning into an oversized heap of disappointment.Â â€œIâ€™ve never had a better week of practice and a poorer performance in a game than we did last week (@ Penn St.), and I think everyone was confused by it,â€ Izzo reflected.Â With this Spartan bunch in the enviable position of battling complacency (after the two straight Final Fours and Big Ten Titles), questions exist as to whether theyâ€™ve played hard enough as a team, every night out.Â â€œAt times, I think we think weâ€™re going to win because we went to two Final Fours, and it doesnâ€™t happen that way.â€
Not even mid way through the Big Ten schedule, and now coming off a comeback win over Wisconsin which could have a positive boost carrying forward, thereâ€™s still hope for the leadership and chemistry of this team to take that next step.Â Yet, as Izzo admitted, itâ€™s far from a sure thing.Â â€œYou can coach â€˜em all week, but the players play the game.Â Theyâ€™ve gotta work themselves out of it, and I think they will, but right now weâ€™ve got a big chore ahead of usâ€
Badgers v. Spartans Became a Great Rivalry the Old Fashioned way, on the Court
Maybe the best part about Michigan State and Wisconsin becoming each otherâ€™s top Basketball rival is how it all came to be.Â The matchup wasnâ€™t created by a network or by sponsors, and it wasnâ€™t just created for TV.Â It elevated itself naturally from being just another Conference match up to the Conference match up for each of the programs.
Starting in the late 90s, when Wisconsin tried to dull everyone to sleep with â€œBennett Ball,â€ MSU and the Badgers began playing really important games.Â By the middle of the decade, the battle lines became entrenched, villains and heroes were established, and memories began to crystallize.Â Some of the biggest include a National Semi-Final, a flop filled Big Ten Tournament classic, and a couple Big Ten Championship deciding games.
â€œI just think itâ€™s been real healthy for the Big Ten,â€ Wisconsin Head Coach and Spartan Nation â€œvillainâ€ Bo Ryan told Spartan Nation.Â â€œItâ€™s just good for basketball, and good for the league.â€Â Tom Izzo has never hid his emotions when it comes to Wisconsin, whether it was disgust at a late game â€œunsportsmanlikeâ€ dunk, another â€œflopâ€ based Offensive foul call, or excitement after a season energizing comeback win.Â But Izzo also doesnâ€™t hide his respect for Coach Ryan and Wisconsinâ€™s success.
â€œYou look at the last ten yearsâ€¦both of us have been in the hunt for a Big Ten Championship, at least up until the last week or two, on probably seven occasions,â€ Izzo recounted.Â â€œThat speaks volumes for where the two programs are.â€Â Ryan knows that the games against MSU are the kind that fans and players will talk about for decades to come.Â â€œI think itâ€™s all stuff that guys can remember and talk about ten, twenty years (down the line) when you run into guys.â€
After looking uninspired and lethargic early Tuesday night, the Spartans completed a magical comeback as the Badgers completed a damaging melted down.Â Yet, it took the urgency of an impending home court loss to Wisconsin to finally wake up the 2011 Spartan Basketball team.
Years down the road, the Spartans and Badgers will no doubt banter over the 1/1/11 game at Breslin.Â Theyâ€™ll talk about the Badgers squandering a 9 point lead with 2:37 to go.Â Theyâ€™ll breakdown how Draymond Green had a career high 26 points and seemed to individually will the Spartans to stay alive late in the game.
Perhaps theyâ€™ll talk about it as the first step in yet another great MSU run deep into the Big Dance.Â Otherwise, it might just end up a lone highlight in a greatly disappointing 2011 season.Â If last nightâ€™s comeback win over Wisconsin didnâ€™t wake this team up, for good now, nothing will.
The Spartans travel to Madison for this seasonâ€™s rematch on February 6th, mark it down on your calendar.
The Spot Up 3: Three Quick Points to Ponder
- The Izzone should stop cheering â€œstand up!â€¦stand up!â€ in hopes of getting the â€œgreen seatsâ€ of Breslin to rise up to their feet.Â If fans want to stand, theyâ€™ll stand.Â If someone barked a command like at me, the last thing Iâ€™d probably be do would be to hop up to my feet.Â The first thing might have involved a certain finger or two.Â Stick to your own, Izzone.
- Not enough Spartans have taken their game forward since the end of last Aprilâ€™s Final Four.Â Too many have probably taken a small step backwards.
- The Spartansâ€™ hopes to hang a third straight Big Ten Championship banner could be completely lost by the end of next weekend.Â Or they could be completely intact if the team can capture the momentum from Wisconsin, hold serve Saturday against Northwestern, and win two very tough road games next week.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JPSpartan or Interact with him Inside the Phalanx Forum