The Spartan Nation Basketball Weekly

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Don't give up Spartan Nation Tom Izzo is still the Coach of this team.  Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.

Don't give up Spartan Nation Tom Izzo is still the Coach of this team. Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.

Distractions of Doom?

On the court, Michigan St. Basketball players can understandably become distracted by their schedule. Each year, the Spartans play one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country, and follow it up by competing in the Nation’s toughest league, night-in and night-out. That’s not proclaiming the Big Ten as always the best conference, but it is the toughest to play in since every team defends. To quote Tom Izzo from last year’s run, “every team checks in this conference.”

Off the court, players face a myriad of distractions that probably seem to come out of nowhere, but everywhere, all at the same time. Off the top of my head: family issues, social issues, ego issues, personality conflicts, academic issues, travel issues, motivation issues, and parking issues (hello MSU DPPS) must be dealt with continually. Yes, other College students face those issues too. But there can be little question that issues are intensified and magnified given a player’s public stature on campus, and place in the broader American Sports World, given the stature of Michigan St. Basketball. It’s a lot for anyone to manage, and it’s been more of an issue with this year’s team than in recent years.

“I just think we’ve had some distractions, on the court and off the court,” Tom Izzo told Spartan Nation earlier this week. “I’ve been concerned about it the whole year.” If you go back to the start of the 2010 campaign, the Head Coach laid out his primary concern, replacing the graduated Suton and Walton, and how their absence might impact MSU. He contended from the get go that what Suton and Walton brought to the program off the court might have exceed what they contributed on the court.

“It’s not always somebody’s fault, but whether it be NBA aspirations or things like that, it’s hard (for kids) to handle sometimes,” Izzo explained. Coming off one of the most memorable seasons in the history of MSU Basketball, distractions for the 2010 Spartans realistically began the day after last year’s National Title game. They amped up as the summer wore on, and started to approach a peak as the season approached and MSU enjoyed its highest pre-season rankings in a handful of years. “We’ve had a hard time dealing with the high ranking, and sometimes when you don’t have as good of leadership (losing the ’09 Seniors), you go through that,” Izzo admitted. “I don’t think the chemistry and the leadership, and handling of distractions is as good (right now) as it needs to be to win a championship.”

Yet we’re only approaching the end of February, not the end of March. There is still time for the Spartans to fix their leadership and chemistry issues, according to Izzo, but now is the time. “We’ve got a good basketball team…we’ve played pretty good most of the year,” the Dean of Big Ten Coaches said. “But I still like the talent we have…I just think, like all coaches say, great players don’t win games, great teams win games.” To become a great team, the Spartans must come together and form an even tighter bond during this off week. This group has yet to really establish their own identity apart from the ‘09 team, but their best opportunities to leave a unique “footprint in the sand” begin Sunday afternoon.

“Hopefully we get a lot of things done (during the off week), we haven’t had one all year really,” Izzo pointed out. If the Spartans can get some of those things done this week, and play their best game of the year on Sunday in West Lafayette, they can quickly right the season’s ship towards a direction the Spartan Nation is now used to heading as the calendar turns to March. Everything the Spartans truly wanted to play for since the end of the National Title game last April, Championships, is still out there to be earned. Now is their time to find a collective passion and purpose within each other. “We still have time to make any kind of run,” Izzo believes. “It’s a matter of whether we can get all those things together now.”