The Spartan Nation Basketball Weekly

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Let's celebrate as the Spartans are back to their winning ways.  Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.

Let's celebrate as the Spartans are back to their winning ways. Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.

Raymar the “X” Factor

Coming into the 2010 season, the Spartan Nation knew Tom Izzo’s “X” Factor. The Big Ten knew MSU’s “X” Factor, and even the National Media that ranked the Spartans as high as 2nd in pre-season polls knew the player that would likely make or break their chances to get back to another Final Four in Indy. Raymar Morgan remains that “X” Factor. “He’s a very valuable player because he’s such a smart player, and he’s capable of playing so many positions,” Izzo explained. “It’s been a little disappointing…it’s been a little mind boggling…but it is what it is, and we’ve gotta see if we can get Raymar going.”

Much was expected out of Morgan, who gutted it out throughout an illness riddled ’09. He was never quite himself after the damaging combination of mononucleosis and pneumonia finally began to exit his system, but he showed signs late that he could put it together in 2010. Spartan Nation asked Coach Izzo if he expected the Sr. to reach another gear, as many Srs. have during their last couple of months in a College uniform, Izzo was certainly hopeful.

           “That would be very important for us,” Izzo began. “There’s no question that he hasn’t hit the gear yet, but there’s no question that he’s hit it before.” Morgan has had more than a few stretches of great games thus far at MSU, but it’s been hard to figure out why it hasn’t all come together on a more consistent basis. 

Time is running out for the “X” factor. He knows it, his team knows it, and the Spartan Nation knows it. That combination might just be enough to inspire the best stretch of basketball Raymar Morgan has ever put together at Michigan St.

Adversity Often Sprouts Growth in Spring

           Some say, “that which doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” I think that’s generally true, though “that which nearly kills you” can be impossible to ever fully recover from. The Spartans recent 3 game skid, and list of accompanying challenges (injuries, discipline issues, distractions, etc.), were hardly such knockout blow. Yet, the recent tough stretch provided MSU with a generous portion of adversity as they looked to be rolling towards a shot to wrap up a Big Ten title before March 1st. 

           “You can go through some (adversity) where it defeats you…but for the most part, I think adversity is something that does build a little more character,” Izzo told Spartan Nation. “It does make you think more about things, whether its Coach to Coach, Player to Coach, or Player to Player.” The Spartans have looked better since Lucas began to heal and they hit the road for two of the weaker opponents in the conference (Penn St. and Indiana).

Coming off the injury, Lucas has played at a better pace. That’s not to say he was playing too fast or out of control before the injury, but it is to say in the last two efforts, he’s managed his game with more poise and control. He seems to be thinking his way around the court more and not forcing his way around as much. 

The Spartan Nation knows that MSU’s next two games will likely decide their ultimate fate in the Big Ten race. Though Ohio St. was beaten by Purdue Wednesday night, the Bucks (aka Brutus) are still playing as well as any team in the conference right now. Therefore, Sunday might reveal how much the Spartans took from their recent adversity spell. “I think we did grow a little bit (from the 3 straight losses),” Izzo explained, “…now how much…we’re gonna soon find out.”

 The Scheduling Solution?

           By most accounts, something needs to be done about the Big Ten Basketball schedule. “I don’t blame anybody because there’s a lot of different factors that I don’t even know, so I’m not going to talk about something I don’t know, but it’s definitely been the strangest Big Ten season I’ve ever witnessed in my twenty-something years here,” Tom Izzo told Spartan Nation earlier this week. 

           Spartan Nation checked in with two of the other top Coaches in the Big Ten to get their thoughts on starting Big Ten play before early January. “To talk about it at this time of year sounds like your whining,” Wisconsin Head Coach Bo Ryan quipped. “When we get into our Big Ten meetings, we’ll talk about it.” Ryan seemed the least concerned of the trio, believing simply that scheduling issues are just a part of the game. “In the nine years I’ve been in the league, everyone’s had some different scheduling issues, and mainly because of accommodating the media, TV, and things like that.”

Currently playing an 18 game schedule (facing 8 of the 10 opponents twice a year), the conference should start by moving the start of the Big Ten season to mid December. At the same time, the conference should add a couple more conference games to play a full round robin and produce a “true” conference champion (an idea familiar to Spartan Nation’s regular readers). If such a drastic change means cutting out a couple of “cupcake” tasting non-conference, non-contests, I doubt anyone will care. In fact, most will probably cheer. 

“I’m more open to having some balance in when you play people,” Purdue’s Matt Painter told Spartan Nation. “It’s (starting the Big Ten season earlier) something that sounds good in theory, and if it makes it more balanced, then great…but I’m not sure it would.” Tom Izzo seemed to echo Painter’s point of view. “If starting earlier were to help (the scheduling anomalies), I’d be in favor of it.”

Big Ten Basketball would be a better product with a smarter schedule. There's simply too many games being stuffed into too few weeks right now. Adding more weeks to the conference schedule, and hopefully two more games, appears to be a logical solution and improvement. And no matter if the conference expands to 12, 14, or even more teams, basketball scheduling should be improved for the better of the best athletic conference in the history of College sports. 

Crean’s Great Cultivation

           If you thought the Spartan Football program was in ruins after the 2002 or 2006 season, wait till the full details of what Tom Crean inherited with Indiana Basketball someday come to light. To date, few know the depths of what went on inside the Hoosier Basketball program, but many of us remain curious. The rumors and innuendo that surrounded the great Hoosier implosion have been astonishing and crazy. The ex-Spartan Assistant and current Hoosier Headman is now deep into his second year of the fight to rebuild the foundation of a completely gutted Indiana program. 

           “It seems like it was light years ago (last season), but it wasn’t…and we’re (still) living through that,” Crean told Spartan Nation earlier this week. “We had to get a team on the floor.” Crean knows he still has a ways to go with his major Bloomington rebuilding project. “We’re not getting ready to write a manual on how to build a program from scratch…there’s a lot of give and take to this, and there’s (ongoing) trial and error.”

           Crean arrived to Indiana after spending nine years at Marquette, which included a 2003 Final Four trip, thanks in large part to Dewayne Wade. Before Marquette, Crean spent four special years as one of Tom Izzo’s assistants. “What we deal with there (at MSU) was (Izzo) replacing a legend, in a legendary program,” Crean remembered. “The one thing that he (Izzo) never let happen was he never let those (players) lose any accountability, and never handed them anything they didn’t earn.”

           Crean left for Marquette after the ’99 Final Four run. Though the complete rebuilding effort at Indiana is not nearly what Izzo faced upon taking over Spartan Basketball, Crean still finds himself applying many lessons learned from his “building” days with Izzo.

Jon Schopp serves as a writer for Spartan Nation and is a well respected attorney.  He also likes kittens, cotton candy and the High School musical movies.  Not really sure about that, but it was pretty funny!

Jon Schopp serves as a writer for Spartan Nation and is a well respected attorney. He also likes kittens, cotton candy and the High School musical movies. Not really sure about that, but it was pretty funny!