So… About Those Spartans?

Posted by rtmsf on December 23rd, 2010

In case you hadn’t noticed, Michigan State’s 52-game non-conference homecourt winning streak ended with an icy thud tonight as a young, athletic Texas team went into the Breslin Center and dominated Tom Izzo’s team, 67-55.  Before we get to the “problems” that the Spartans have, let’s consider a little bit of historical context with this program before we pull the alarm bells at the firehouse.  Since the last time MSU entered the NCAAs as a #1 seed in the 2001-02 season, Izzo’s teams have been to nine NCAA Tournaments with an average seed of #6 coming into the Dance.  Remember, seeding is a general reflection of a team’s season resume, and the standard profile of a #6 seed is something in the neighborhood of a 25-9 team that finished third or fourth in the Big Ten — a solid  above-average major conference team but nothing special.  In six of those nine years, the Spartans overplayed their seed expectation by a total of ten wins, which essentially means that if Izzo’s team was expected by seed to make the Sweet Sixteen, he usually took them to the Final Four instead (in two other years, MSU performed exactly to its seed, and only in 2006 did the Spartans perform below its seed).

No Need For Frowns, Fellas (DFP/J. Gonzalez)

So what’s happening here?  Is this a situation where the “real” Michigan State is the one that sleepwalks through much of the season, vulnerable to several head-scratching games a year despite a surfeit of talent on the floor?  Or is the actual team the one that shows up seemingly every March and plows through NCAA Tournament opponents as if they were #16 seeds with multi-directional names?  We’ve seen this Izzo dog-and-pony show long enough to have become fully convinced that it’s the former.  He recruits numerous good but not great players (only two first-rounders since 2002) who buy into his system and win a lot of games, but nobody will ever confuse Kalin Lucas with John Wall or Durrell Summers with Evan Turner — and yet, those MSU players have been to Final Fours while the others have not.  It comes down to this.  We believe that Izzo is such a fantastic motivator and game coach that when the NCAA Tournament arrives, he elevates his players to the point where a #6 seed from a talent/resume perspective starts playing like a #1 or #2 seed, and before you know it, Sparty is again booking tickets at the Final Four.

That collective disgust you heard tonight was the college basketball community once again throwing its hands up in the air as MSU looked slow, tired and generally unathletic against the much more aggressive and high-flying Longhorns.  The Spartan goals sphinctered up to the point where they shot only 29% for the game and 19% from deep while committing six more turnovers than the younger ‘Horns, including several from Korie Lucious that nearly made Jay Bilas get up out of his analyst’s chair and deliver a tirade at the Final Four point guard himself.  And as for that legendary Michigan State defense?  Well, it guarded the foul line well (11-21) and not much else tonight, as UT’s big four of Jordan Hamilton, Gary Johnson, Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph went for 59 points on an array of dribble-drives and ensuing layups/dunks that often made the Spartans look cemented into the hardwood.  To a casual observer of this game, it would be extremely difficult to explain to that person why Michigan State is still the better bet in March, but riddle us this:  will anyone out there go on record to say that the Spartans definitely will not make it to Houston in April?  Or that Rick Barnes’ Longhorns will?  Yeah, didn’t think so — to do so would be to deny what we know to be true, that Izzo will figure out a way to make the magic happen again.

Here’s the takeaway from tonight’s loss to Texas.  There’s nothing wrong with Michigan State — they are who they are and who they will continue to be — an above-average team with above-average players who will lose some games and cause everyone to doubt them again during the regular season before making another shocking and completely unexpected run in March.  Sure, it’s annoying because we tend to celebrate greatness and denigrate unpredictability, but there’s really nothing unpredictable about MSU’s modus operandi.  They do this almost every year.  All we can say is, fool us once…

rtmsf (3992 Posts)

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3 responses to “So… About Those Spartans?”

  1. David K says:

    Man, you are so on point about this. I tweeted last night that the difference between the first 3 Final Four teams and the last 3, was that the first 3 were an elite teams. They plowed through the regular season, and beat quality opponents out of conference. They also were winners of 4 straight Big Ten titles. They were great teams. I still don’t consider us among the best programs in college. Not on that Duke, Kentucky, Kansas level. Izzo is there, but not the program.

    A lot of it has to do with what you said, recruiting. Jason Richardson and Zach Randolph were his last two outstanding recruits. Shannon Brown could be thrown in there, but I have a lot of anger towards the 2006 team still. Marcus Taylor was starting to ball his sophomore year, and essentially carried a depleted squad that lost Richardson and Randolph the year before. but When Taylor bolted, Izzo started to change his recruiting. He wanted guys that were going to hang around 3-4 years. Yes, he has landed a couple highly rated recruits in Roe and Payne, but neither has lived to their expectations, regardless of injuries. He has never landed that guy that everyone is fighting for. MSU is never on the John Wall types radar. This is what keeps MSU from being that dominant team. Lucas and Summers have both had flashes of taking over games, but never has Izzo had that guy who could go off for 40. Elite players make up elite teams, pretty simple.

    I am constantly amazed by Izzo’s success in March, because rattling of at least 4 straight against quality opponents over a 9 day span is extremely difficult even during the regular season. Doing it when the lights are brightest is even harder, and isn’t done often. It isn’t a reflection of the MSU program, it is of Izzo. That’s why MSU fans freaked out when he was thinking of leaving. Jud Heathcoate won his title cause he had Magic. Imagine if Izzo could get that one guy every year? Wow.

    sorry for the long comment.

  2. That Guy says:

    Completely Agree. Not worried at all as a Spartan Fan. We have Izzo America. What do you have?

  3. Nils says:

    Can we also talk about the schedule, we have played 5 Top 25 teams, I think Kentucky is the only other team in the Top 25 that has played as many as 3. Texas will have played that many after they play UCONN I believe.

    Izzo doesn’t get the time he needs with his team until Christmas break to correct problems like turnovers and lack of detail. Durrell Summers hasn’t been coming off screens like he did last March and it shows up in games like Texas.

    I like the athletic ability of this years team, what I don’t know about is it’s toughness, Roe needs to become Andre Hutson overnight, because Andre was a guy that played much bigger than his 6’8″ frame, he was always the toughest guy on the floor, we don’t have that right now.

    If Irving doesn’t come back for Duke this year the field is wide open, if he does come back, then it’s Dukes to lose.

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