MSU showing cracks?
Tom Izzo is worried about his team two games into the Big Ten season. Should you be, too?
Izzo had some harsh words after Michigan State's 78-75 victory over Purdue Tuesday when the Spartans blew a 16-point first-half lead only to win on a late Travis Walton jumper. A sampling:
- "We've got a couple guys playing pretty well, a couple guys feeling sorry for themselves."
- "We didn't not play, we just seemed like a team that forgets that you got to take care of the ball, got to rebound the ball and you got to defend the ball."
- "We got a good team, good players, but there's a lot of good teams out there. Good teams and good players don't win. Tough teams and tough players win."
That last quote is most revealing for a coach trying to reach his fifth Final Four in 10 years. Izzo may have his most talented team ever Raymar Morgan is a potential first-round pick this year (with the upside to go higher in 2009), freshman Kalin Lucas is a pro-in-the-making (sooner than you think, too) and Drew Neitzel remains deadly from distance but there's something missing as he looks towards San Antonio.
"I've been telling you for a couple weeks that I've not been pleased," Izzo said Tuesday. "I think you got an eyeful why. This is the first time in a lot of years that we just flat out got out-physicaled, out-toughed, out-manhandled, out-defended."
MSU can talent its way through most of the rest of the regular season. At 14-1 right now, the Spartans should finish no worse than 26-5, which will be good enough for at least a three seed come March. Getting to the Final Four, however, is more complicated. Kansas, Memphis and North Carolina all have better talent than MSU, and if the Spartans don't earn a one seed they'll likely run into one of those buzz-saws in the tournament.
All are beatable, but not the way MSU is currently constructed. Too often Tuesday Purdue got easy looks at the basket, including a wide-open 3-point attempt by Keaton Grant in the final seconds that would have tied the game. Neitzel seems to sulk at times in his new complimentary role, though having the ball in Lucas' hands is best for the team. And Izzo continues to lament Goran Suton's magic disappearing act inside.
The good news is there's two months to work out the kinks. The reality is MSU can't think that way. To be at their best come March, the Spartans have to get on the same page as their coach now.