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The Spartan Nation Basketball Weekly

The “X” Factor of Discipline


It’s said that from discipline comes from toughness, and without discipline, you cannot build toughness. Therefore a team that lacks discipline and toughness will never reach its true peak. Spartan legend George Perles once said that “without discipline, you have no chance.” Mark Dantonio recently said in his post season press conference that discipline is a “true evaluator of where a person is in their life.” The same can probably said for a College Basketball program.

One of the distinguishing features of the Tom Izzo era has been discipline. From executing game winning plays off the inbounds of a time out, to finding the exact spot on the floor to run a key “set” late in a tight tournament game, the Spartans’ discipline has often been the ultimate difference. It has separated MSU from the pack, and fueled MSU’s rise to the elite level of the sport.

Last night, the Spartans got well ahead of the Iowa Hawkeyes, and then lost their mental edge. First they lost some focus, then they lost the discipline that built their large lead. As MSU got a bit loose in the 2nd half, Iowa made quite the push to get back into the game. Down as many as 19, Iowa cut it to only 3 before the Spartans finally closed them out by 7.

The 2nd half against Iowa is an example of where the Spartans must improve. Championship teams manage to play with a similar intensity and focus all the way through the 00:00 on the game clock. It’s hard not to relax and let up after building more than a two touchdown lead, it’s human nature. But when teams start to throw crazy passes, try ill fitting shots, and even go for uncharacteristic dunks, trouble often follows. That unhealthy mix is exactly how you bring a team who’s getting their first coat of wax, right back into the game.

Before the 2nd half performance Wednesday night, Tom Izzo believed this 2010 squad was starting to play a bit tighter. “I think we’re getting more disciplined,” he told Spartan Nation. And he explained that it can be easier to identify discipline on a basketball court than in other sports. “Sometimes it’s easier to evaluate (in basketball) because you’re out there in a pair of shorts, with no helmet on, and everybody sees what you do, how you act, and what you say.”

Though a case of the “2nd half lackadaisicals” should not be an issue against the tougher opponents left on the Spartans’ schedule, it is something MSU must now watch closely. As we’ve discussed already this season, this team cannot afford to lose their sense of urgency. Sooner than later, it will cost them a game. The very best college basketball teams do a better job of building on a lead and closing it out. The non-elites so often get way ahead, way relaxed, and then way surprised by a game’s final outcome.

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When you think of the best Michigan State Basketball teams, you think of the most disciplined. Whether it was the slash and dash Magical Spartans of 1979, or the banging and breaking Spartans of 2000, discipline was a common thread. Though each team’s form of discipline was unique, they wouldn’t have become champions without it. Last year’s team was a great example, as MSU came together and found itself during the Big Ten season after some early disappointments and undisciplined efforts.

When you think about the Spartans playing disciplined, it sounds like a natural fit since the definition of “spartan” includes “sternly disciplined.” But Izzo said it’s not all that easy. “Usually on a football team or basketball team, not everybody’s self disciplined, and not everybody’s totally disciplined.” So the onus, according to Izzo, falls on a team’s leaders. “You just don’t find many great teams that don’t have pretty strong character or leadership guys.”

Izzo believes this mid-winter period is an era of Spartan leadership in transition. “We’re still in the process of changing over from the Walton era, and Suton, and yet I think since Christmas we’re making great strides and getting better every day at it.” And he believes he’s got the guys, Lucas and Green among them, to provide the strong leadership needed to take this team from very good to among the country’s elite. “Usually you have a few leaders and a bunch of followers. And if you have good leaders, the followers follow right. If you don’t, the followers follow wrong.”

What Does it Look Like?

With so many different teams running so many different styles (contrast Iowa and Wisconsin for example), it can be difficult to recognize what is and what isn’t disciplined basketball. Discipline in College Basketball can show up in various areas. It can show up Defensively in areas like positioning, playing “Help Defense,” and boxing out to rebound. Offensively it is most obvious in terms of turnovers and shot selection. The less disciplined a team’s play, the more obvious their deficiencies. The more disciplined a team operates, the tighter and more in sync their movements look. The most disciplined efforts display little wasted motion, few panicked or unbalanced shot attempts, and an overall game awareness, and control.

When they Spartans have been at their worst thus far, they’ve been too careless with the ball and given away too many possessions. To echo their Head Coach, sometimes they haven’t had enough respect for the ball. If you look closely at their three losses so far, at least two of them could be heavily attributed to carelessness with the ball. This is a problem that perturbed Tom Izzo early in the season, but one that he has seen some improvement as the Spartans have played their way into the second semester.

You don’t get the redoubtable (say hello to the Dictionary for the first time in 2010) moniker “Rebound U” by luck or athleticism alone. Rebounds are generally earned. It starts with an attitude, and happens with execution. A big part of the execution is discipline. From finding the right position down on the blocks, to timing out a jump based on the trajectory and direction of a shot, there’s a lot more to rebounding than the casual fan might immediately recognize. It’s not just running the “War Drill” again and again.

One of the great things about Tom Izzo’s future at MSU is that his disciplined commitment to defense and rebounding is fully engrained now in this program. Players come to MSU knowing they will have to defend, and have to rebound. It’s a huge advantage to have a program with such an established identity. If kids don’t want the discipline to play defense and commit to the boards, they can always go elsewhere (Syracuse for example) and probably not work as hard. But those that suit up in Green and White know before they ever arrive to Breslin that they must elevate their game in those two fundamental areas to have a chance to earn time in the playing group. They know that the foundation of Spartan Basketball has been discipline, and with discipline comes the opportunity for great success.