Will a win over his arm nemesis Bo Ryan propels Izzo cagers on to pre season expectations?  Photo courtesy Mark Boomgaard.

Will a win over his arch nemesis Bo Ryan propels Izzo cagers on to pre season expectations? Photo courtesy Mark Boomgaard.

Something hasn’t been right in East Lansing.  The Spartan basketball program appeared to have lost its identity.  The blank stares, the depressed body language and selfish play appeared to be rooted deeply in this roster.  The Penn State loss was an embarrassment.  PSU couldn’t even fill the lower bowl of their arena.  Other than the 22 fans, 14 players and 4 coaches in attendance last weekend, nobody even cares about Nittany Lion basketball.  MSU got out rebounded and shot horribly from the free throw line.

The Wisconsin game looked to be more of the same.  I wrote the Spartans off as all but dead with a nine-point deficit and less than three minutes to play. The team’s confidence appeared to be deeply planted at the bottom of a Breslin Center latrine.  Something was wrong.  Something was broken.  There is too much talent on this roster to be 11-5.  This team was the preseason #2 team in the country.  Where is the MSU team we know?

They showed up right before the end of regulation on Tuesday night.  One big defensive stop after another, MSU’s defense get them back to even and they were awarded an opportunity to right the ship in overtime.  The game was salvaged largely due to defense and rebounding.  Draymond Green played his best offensive game earning 26 points in the contest.  Korie Lucious’ big three pointer tied the game before overtime and for the first time in a long time, players smiled through the pain that plagued them throughout the season.

Winning cures a lot of ailments.  One can only hope that this win against Wisconsin sends MSU on the championship warpath.  Much more has to be remedied in order to truly right the Spartan ship.  These guys have got to find a way to stick together.  They need to find a way to enjoy playing the game again.  They need to trust one another and play unselfishly.  They need to find a way to reconnect the pieces that allow them to work with their head coach.

People may crucify me for saying this, but I was starting to wonder whether or not Izzo had lost his ability to reach his guys.  There has been barking between players and coaches throughout the season.  It was visible even watching them on television.  The off-season distractions still appear to be distractions.  I have often wondered if players even wanted to be on the floor.  I have wondered whether or not they like one another.  I have questioned whether or not the relationship between the players and this staff is somewhat fractured.

Every team has a little different identity.  No Michigan State team ever lives without the rebounding and defensive badges as part of their genetic make-up.  When those things went missing early in the season, I knew something more than the traditional Christmas holiday tune-up would be needed to get them back on track.

Sure, MSU rallied to get back in the game against a lesser talented Wisconsin team at home.  Is this enough to unite them and right the ship?  I don’t really know.  I am not sure that these guys love playing for one another and their coaches enough to get it together in time for the Big Ten grind and the NCAA tournament.  Were the early season losses more than they could handle?  They could have been.  Those big losses one after another are just not customary for Tom Izzo teams.

Some might think I have fallen off my rocker when I say this, but MSU is still in danger of not making the NCAA tournament.  Sounds crazy right?  Not really.  MSU is 11-5 right now with no signature wins over non-conference teams.  Yes, they have played a brutal schedule, but they have only beaten Wisconsin at home.  That is their only marquee win and they needed overtime to accomplish a feat that most of the upper tier Big Ten teams will accomplish.  When you look at their remaining schedule, it is easy to see them going .500 in Big Ten play.

Michigan State could lose at home to Purdue or Illinois.  They don’t get Ohio State at home.  There are probable road losses to OSU, Illinois, Purdue, (dare I say it) Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.  If they lose all of these key road games, they will be an eleven-loss team.  They cannot slip up at home and lose those road games or they’ll be out.  We will be hearing the NIT chants throughout opposing arenas.

I don’t know what these guys have to do to get it fixed.  The Wisconsin game was a good first step.  Let’s hope it is enough to inspire this MSU team to play up to their potential.  I don’t believe they can win a Big Ten Championship.  I do hope that they keep their NCAA streak alive.  Either way, I just want them to get back to enjoying the game and reinvesting in their Spartan identities.  Defense. Rebounding. Team basketball.