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The Spartan Nation Basketball Weekly

It is finally March and in the Spartan Nation that means stand up and get ready. Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.

It is finally March and in the Spartan Nation that means stand up and get ready. Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.


Mentally Worn Down, or Mentally Burnt Out?

As the season has progressed, Spartan Nation has shaken its collective head and wondered why this team has missed so many foul shots, so many easy scores from inside of five feet, and why these Spartans just haven’t looked like themselves. The answer might just be that they’re mental exhausted.

“I thought (Sunday) after giving them a couple of days off, I thought we looked tired,” Tom Izzo told Spartan Nation earlier this week. Physically, the Spartans should’ve been fresher than they’ve been in weeks. Mentally, they never really got into the game. “(The extra day off) It didn’t seem like it worked too good, so maybe you try something else…every group’s different.”

There’s a long list of things that have happened since the end of last year’s Final Four run, and all of them have compounded on each other ever since. “I’m sure when you’re battling, and going through the injuries and the different things that you’ve had to go through…and then the Final Four runs take a little toll on you too,” Izzo explained. “It can be a positive, but it can be a little bit of a negative because you’re just constantly supposed to be “on,” every day of the season.”

No program has played for more in the past two seasons, and probably no program had higher expectations coming into 2011. Some of the players foolishly claimed this season had a “National Championship or bust” mantra, which only placed the highest expectations and hopes for a team that was coming out of an awful, “lost summer.” That wound and pressure was self inflicted (the worst kind), and has contributed heavily to the teams’ mental drain.

Things didn’t get much better during the regular season, despite an earlier than expected comeback by Kalin Lucas (Sr. G), and only got a lot worse with the defection of Korie Lucious (Jr. G) (which still causes excessive head scratching). Lucious’ disappearance only added more to the mental wear down. There’s only so much a team can realistically expect to handle.

“You get through it by your Seniors, and Juniors. For us, that’s Kalin and Draymond,” Izzo said. “(Purdue) was an uncharacteristic, average performance by Draymond, he just missed some in close shots.” Again, that’s probably a sign of a deeper mental fatigue more than any kind of physical issue. But the Spartans also went up against a dominant and rolling bunch of Boilers, led by one of the conference’s very best players. “I think some of it, JuJuan Johnson deserves some credit for, and some of it, we deserve some blame for,” Izzo concluded.

College Basketball teams naturally get tired at points during the season, but there’s usually time to bounce back. If a team is exhausted, however, it’s unlikely to recover during that season because there isn’t enough of a break that’s needed to fully refresh. “You’ve gotta do it,” Izzo insists. “We’ve done it in the past, a lot of different ways…It’s an advantage of being here for some time.”

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Heading into the last regular season game of the year, and about to start “one and done” time, Izzo has to find yet another way.  It he can’t, it won’t be for a lack of trying, it might just be the reality of playing through mental exhaustion.

Is This Team “Spartan” Enough?

Defense and Rebounding are the two absolute foundations of Spartan Basketball. As you branch out from those core pillars, you find other integral ingredients like toughness, Basketball IQ, physical strength, and foul shooting (traditionally). Based on the inconsistent, and occasionally indifferent play of the 2011 team, some have questioned (right or wrong) whether this team has “bought in” enough to the “Spartan Basketball” brand.

“I would say that that’s a fair (question), and maybe some of that is from success, and not handling it properly,” Izzo admitted. “I don’t think we have the grit that most of the teams have played with, but it’s not like all of them have.” When you think about some of the teams in the middle of the ‘00s, they did not have the traditional grit of the earlier Izzo teams, but definitely had more skill. To be fair to some of those mid-decade teams, the game changed a bit (thanks Refs) during that period, in large part due to the physical success the Spartans’ enjoyed across College Basketball around the turn of the century.

This bunch has lost some grit over the past two seasons, and should have picked up more skill this year. But as some of that skill has misfired and gone absent this year, it’s been quite a struggle. “I think we’re forgetting what we’ve lost. If I came into the season and told you who my three or four best shooters are, two of them are gone,” Izzo explained, though not wanting to use it as an excuse. “That creates some Offensive slumps where you don’t score for a while, so it’s hard to get the home crowd into the game (like Sunday against Purdue).”

Any time you lose a home court advantage, let alone one of the top 10 in the nation, you lose quite a bit. “We didn’t even give them (the fans) a chance (Sunday), and that happens if you don’t score the ball…Not only is it infections for your team, but for your fans.” The fans at Breslin are done for the year now after Wednesday’s win over Iowa. Michigan State’s performance Saturday in Ann Arbor and next week in the Big Ten (exhibition) Tournament will help determine where those fans will get a shot to follow the Spartans to begin a 14th straight NCAA Tournament regional.

The more this team can embrace and execute the traditions of “Spartan Basketball,” the more likely the NCAA trip will evolve into another run through March Madness for Spartan Basketball.

The Spot Up 3: Three Quick Basketball Points to Ponder

  1. There’s no question that Kalin Lucas’ jersey should hang in the rafters of Breslin Center, but not until Charlie Bell’s #14 goes up first. By then, it’ll probably be time for MSU to “release” all the retired numbers (except #33) for use again, but perhaps only with the consent and approval of the player whose number was honored. For example, if one day a young walk-on named Steven Izzo wants to wear #12, he’d have to get the approval of Mateen Cleaves. How about that idea?
  2. Regardless of what happens in the next couple of weeks, this season will go down as a disappointment. The conclusion will stick that this team underachieved. Well, the rest of the College Basketball world is probably saying, “about time!” Under Tom Izzo, MSU has overachieved way more often than not. In this day of, “what have you done for me lately,” as in during the last minute, Spartan Nation should keep that in mind. This program will remain elite for the foreseeable future.
  3. As crazy as it might sound, the number one thing this team needs right now is for the NCAA Tournament to start. Once the brackets are filled and the Spartans begin their preparation, many (but not all) of the issues that have muddied the season might quickly fade away. This program is built for March, and has become elite for perhaps one primary reason: though they are not always the best team on the court, but they are always among the toughest team to beat.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JPSpartan or Interact with him Inside the Phalanx Forum