The Spartan Nation Basketball Weekly

Jonathan Schopp

The Spartans are not cheering with a Northwestern team on the radar with a healthy Shurna on the way.  Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.
The Spartans are not cheering with a Northwestern team on the radar with a healthy Shurna on the way. Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.



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 “player-coached teams,” not “coach-coached teams.” The 2011 Spartans aren’t quite there yet, but do have that experience to rely on. 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. “I don’t think there’s any question that our best players have struggled at times, and not to put a lot on Draymond (Green), but he’s our leader and in the (last three) three losses he’s really struggled, and he knows it and understands it,” Izzo explained.

Izzo isn’t as perplexed about which Spartans need to play better (Green, Kalin Lucas, and Durrell Summers primarily), but isn’t sure exactly why his leaders and best players haven’t done more on a night-in night-out basis. “Our leadership is okay, I don’t think it’s great,” Izzo repeated. “But it’s hard to lead too, when you’re struggling yourself,” he said about Green’s recent slump. “It’s harder to lead that way…and harder to coach the team as a player that way…but I don’t think it’s one guy’s fault, that’s for sure.”

Everyone in Spartan Nation knows it’s now up to the players to pull together and save a season that started with talk of “National Championship or bust” from turning into an oversized heap of disappointment. “I’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,” Izzo reflected. 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 they’ve played hard enough as a team, every night out. “At times, I think we think we’re going to win because we went to two Final Fours, and it doesn’t happen that way.”

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, there’s still hope for the leadership and chemistry of this team to take that next step. Yet, as Izzo admitted, it’s far from a sure thing. “You can coach ‘em all week, but the players play the game. They’ve gotta work themselves out of it, and I think they will, but right now we’ve got a big chore ahead of us”

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 other’s top Basketball rival is how it all came to be. The matchup wasn’t created by a network or by sponsors, and it wasn’t just created for TV. 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 “Bennett Ball,” MSU and the Badgers began playing really important games. By the middle of the decade, the battle lines became entrenched, villains and heroes were established, and memories began to crystallize. Some of the biggest include a National Semi-Final, a flop filled Big Ten Tournament classic, and a couple Big Ten Championship deciding games.

“I just think it’s been real healthy for the Big Ten,” Wisconsin Head Coach and Spartan Nation “villain” Bo Ryan told Spartan Nation. “It’s just good for basketball, and good for the league.” Tom Izzo has never hid his emotions when it comes to Wisconsin, whether it was disgust at a late game “unsportsmanlike” dunk, another “flop” based Offensive foul call, or excitement after a season energizing comeback win. But Izzo also doesn’t hide his respect for Coach Ryan and Wisconsin’s success.

“You look at the last ten years…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,” Izzo recounted. “That speaks volumes for where the two programs are.” Ryan knows that the games against MSU are the kind that fans and players will talk about for decades to come. “I think it’s all stuff that guys can remember and talk about ten, twenty years (down the line) when you run into guys.”

After looking uninspired and lethargic early Tuesday night, the Spartans completed a magical comeback as the Badgers completed a damaging melted down. 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. They’ll talk about the Badgers squandering a 9 point lead with 2:37 to go. They’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 they’ll talk about it as the first step in yet another great MSU run deep into the Big Dance. Otherwise, it might just end up a lone highlight in a greatly disappointing 2011 season. If last night’s comeback win over Wisconsin didn’t wake this team up, for good now, nothing will.

The Spartans travel to Madison for this season’s rematch on February 6th, mark it down on your calendar.

The Spot Up 3: Three Quick Points to Ponder

  1. The Izzone should stop cheering “stand up!…stand up!” in hopes of getting the “green seats” of Breslin to rise up to their feet. If fans want to stand, they’ll stand. If someone barked a command like at me, the last thing I’d probably be do would be to hop up to my feet. The first thing might have involved a certain finger or two. Stick to your own, Izzone.
  2. Not enough Spartans have taken their game forward since the end of last April’s Final Four. Too many have probably taken a small step backwards.
  3. The Spartans’ hopes to hang a third straight Big Ten Championship banner could be completely lost by the end of next weekend. 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

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