Could a Busy Schedule Equal a Sharpened Focus?

A quick glance at the Spartans’ February schedule reveals a very busy month.  Two separate 3-game weeks, three big road dates, and the Spartans’ top Basketball rival coming to Breslin Center next Thursday night make for a very hectic pace.  With all that jammed into the year’s shortest month, one might assume it could make it easier for a team to follow the old adage of taking it “one game at a time.”  Tom Izzo is not so sure.

“It’s just like always, if you have a week off and you win the next game, you say it was good for you,” he explained.  Yet, while Izzo wasn’t sure his packed in calendar would help his team’s game-to-game focus, he sees other benefits to a steadier slate of games.

“I kinda like now getting on track…where you’ve got a little bit of consistency (with the number of dates between games).  I think that’s better for the players.”  He also explained that Coaches tend to adjust to scheduling inconsistencies better than players can. 

Given the tight Big Ten race and MSU’s opponents over the rest of the month, anything but a “one game at a time” approach should leave the Spartans out of league contention come the dawn of “March Madness.”  It will be interesting to see if the busy schedule leads to a better “one game focus,” or ends up wearing the Spartans thin in this make or break Big Ten month.

The Goal of Going Out on Top

A year ago today, no one around the Big Ten foresaw the shameful crumbling of two Coaching icons.  With Joe Paterno clearly the at the top of the Coaching Icon list at that time, you could’ve had an interesting debate to name the Coaching Icon in line.  And while you quickly would’ve compared the incredible successes of Jim Tressel and Tom Izzo, there’s now no argument to be made.  Izzo is now the Big Ten’s top Coaching Icon, which is a reality he cannot ignore. 

“I’ve seen some sad things happen, and nobody wants that to happen…to anybody,” he explained.  Izzo has been around long enough to see cheerful exits, like his predecessor Jud Heathcote’s final Big Ten tour.  He’s seen a few questionable ones, like the last years at Purdue for Gene Keady.  And he’s been up close to a few shocking and disturbing dismissals, as seen recently at Indiana with Bobby Knight, and the ongoing disaster in Happy Valley.

“It’s a dream of every Coach (to leave on a good note), even though it very seldom happens,” he admitted to Spartan Nation.   “I think every Coach hopes to do two things: they hope to get out on their own whenever they want to get out, and they hope they leave the program in better shape than they got it in.”   

While Izzo appears far from done at MSU, he’s always had that kind of mindset and has always kept track of the enormous challenge of building a program to last.  “I feel better about that than I did two years ago,” he quipped.  But he also accepts that it’s awful hard to bring those “exit goals” together at once.  “Sometimes those two have to meet part way.” 

Izzo contends that big time College Coaches are now “hired to be fired” in a “trickle down effect from pro football, or pro basketball, or any of the other sports.”  But unlike those professional teams, the legacy and footprint of an iconic College Coach lives on far past their exit.  You can still see Gene Keady in the effort of the Purdue Boilermakers.  You can still feel Bob Knight in the rafters of Assembly Hall.  And you can’t watch Spartan Basketball without the feel and ambiance of a lasting “Jud Thud.”  Nor can you avoid the stain left behind from a Lane Kiffin, Butch Davis, or John Calipari on the other side of that equation.   

While going out on top is a Coach’s dream, we far more often seen a nightmare ending in College Sports.  So rare is the perfectly executed “walk off shot” like Scotty Bowman of the Detroit Red Wings (the best Coach in the history of Professional Sports) once pulled off.  Given the incredible and ugly exits in the Big Ten over the last 12 months, fans these days are probably content to give up on those Coach’s dreams to insure they’ll avoid a long lasting nightmare.

The Spot up 3:  Three Quick College Basketball Points to Dribble Around

1.      The chatter around College Basketball of maybe moving “March Madness” to a May finale has to be intriguing.  If they can transform CBB into a one-semester sport, it’s hard to argue that would be worse for the so called Student-Athlete.   

2.      Can the NCAA get the Men’s 3-point line moved back to an International distance, and also take the Women’s line off the court for the playing of a Men’s game already.  One move is needed to further the overall development of a slipping College Men’s game, and the other to avoid sending any more of us to the Ophthalmologist for assistance?       

3.      The Spartan Big Men have gotten stronger with the ball than they were in the season’s first two showcase contests, but they haven’t been tested since like they will against Ohio St. this Saturday, and again three weeks later.  Now is the time they must squeeze and finish around the rim.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JPSpartan and inside the Phalanx Forum