What are you talking about Willis?  Izzo will have his team back in the dance again this season!  Photo courtesy of Starr Portice.

What are you talking about Willis? Izzo will have his team back in the dance again this season! Photo courtesy of Starr Portice.

Even a Perfect Storm Must Eventually Come to an End

With the sound of the final buzzer Saturday at Crisler Arena, the longest regular season of the Tom Izzo era finally ended.  What was once expected to be one of the most talented team in Michigan State history never fully materialized.  Instead, this team turned out to be one of the most puzzling and disappointing (to date) in school history.

Derailed by a turbulent and injury riddled summer, things only worsened mid-season with the self inflicted defection of perhaps the key player of MSU’s Final Four run last year after Kalin Lucas blew his Achilles.  But with the long and difficult regular season now behind them, Spartan Basketball gets a fresh start with Tournament time set to begin.

Starting with Thursday’s “rubber game” (a term for the 3rd game in a 3 game series which is tied at one a piece) with Iowa, MSU begins “one and done” time.  As complicated as the Spartans’ troubles have seemed during the year, Tom Izzo does see a path to success heading into the Big Ten Tournament.  It starts with the hot play of Kalin Lucas.

“I really believe that Kalin’s playing his best basketball,” Izzo announced.  But the Spartans’ Head Coach knows this team also needs the “Dancing Bear” to come out of hibernation again.  “I just got out of a meeting with Draymond Green…and we need more out of Draymond.”  With Lucas firing on just about all cylinders, and Durrell Summers’ contribution anything but consistent and dependable, the Spartans have to get the most out of Green to win Tournament games.

“Draymond Green’s been the best winners I’ve had in years here,” Izzo said.  “Travis (Walton) was close, but if you go all the way back to (Mateen) Cleaves…he (Green) did the things that were about winning the first two years.”  Green knows that he must do things once again, but cannot try too hard or end up pressing.

“I think he’s maybe putting too much pressure on himself, or trying to maybe play a different position, like (Kyle) Singler did,” Izzo admitted.  “That made it a little hard for him.”  Yet with the regular season now in the rearview mirror, Green’s slate is wiped clean for tournament play, which should come with some sense of relief.  He’ll be counted on heavily (and hopefully once and for all) to get back to being Draymond Green, the “Dancing Bear.”

“He’s just got to get back to who he is.  That part, I think, is going to be a little bit easier because who he is, is who he’s been most of his life,” Izzo said with encouragement.  “If we can get him playing really well again, then I think we’ll have two (stars).”  The future Hall of Famer knows that having two stars is a big key to having any real Tournament success.

“Every good team’s got two stars, the great teams sometimes have three,” Izzo explained.  I don’t mean All-Americans, I mean guys that play to that role.”  For these Spartans, that clearly means Lucas and Green.  Anything that MSU can get out of Durrell Summers would honestly be a bonus at this point.  But based on last spring’s flurry, it’s certainly not impossible for the Senior from the D to suddenly heat up.

“Listening to Matt (Painter) before, with E’Twuan Moore and (JuJuan) Johnson…you look at their game (loss at Iowa) and maybe they didn’t shoot as well…so you don’t win,” Izzo pointed out.  “Then I looked at (Kyle) Singler and Nolan Smith (from Duke) and they struggled against North Carolina, and they don’t win.”  Spartan Nation understands the detriment of shooting woes at this point in time, and knows that their Spartans cannot afford to shoot poorly this weekend and expect to win a game this weekend.

If the MSU can feed off their two stars, wins are possible.  A trip to the Sweet 16, as distant as it sounds right now, could also be possible.  But in the season of the “lost summer” and the “perfect storm,” that “if” could not be any bigger.  So IF MSU can leave behind the struggles and frustrations of the regular season, they just might find some measure of Tournament success in 2011.

Looking to Dance

 

What to look for on both sides of the court during the coming weeks of Tournament play:

Offense

  • Will the Spartans work the half-court offense from inside out?
  • Will Durrell Summers get shots early to try to get him going again like last spring?
  • Can MSU execute the easy shots within 5 ft. of the rim?

Defense

  • Can the Spartans effectively defend the 3-point shot?
  • Can MSU keep their opponents under a 50% shooting percentage?
  • Will Foul trouble ultimately thin the Spartans too far to stay alive in March?

The Spot Up 3: Three Quick Basketball Points to Ponder Heading into Conference Tournament Weekend

  1. It’s been odd to watch Korie Lucious continue to comment on the Spartans this season (via Twitter) after he was dismissed from the team.  I’m not saying it’s wrong, or that Lucious should be divorced completely from his friends and teammates of the past three years, but I am saying it’s been extremely bizarre to see it all play out in the media via the information game changer that is Twitter.  We’re not in technological Kansas anymore, Spartan Nation.
  2. As long as the Spartans win the Big Ten Tournament game their supposed to (Iowa in the 1st round) and at least play well in a potential Friday matchup with Purdue, they should not have to worry about an NCAA entry.  They might, however, be used as a ratings guinea pig for the “play in games” early next week.  Crazy, you say?  Well, they won the Big Ten last year and were nailed with a disrespectful 5 seed, so what could possibly surprise you from a selection committee at this point?
  3. After snoring dormant for more than a decade, the Michigan St.-Michigan basketball rivalry now has life again.  Just as you could say the football version of the sibling rivalry didn’t reignite until MSU won a game at Michigan Stadium, the basketball version needed a season sweep by the Wolverines to once again gain any competitive relevance.  With two tight victories over the struggling Spartans, John “L.” Beilein has his program’s “signature” victories, and the Great Lakes state once again has a competitive sibling basketball rivalry…at least for now.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JPSpartan or Interact with him Inside the Phalanx Forum

4