Coming off their first week split in the Big Ten, the Spartans are off until Thursday night when they travel to Iowa. They’ll next return home for a Sunday evening game against Nebraska. In the meantime, Tom Izzo hopes to make immediate progress in a couple of important areas.
The Spartans have started a little slow on the Offensive glass. “Were in the middle of the pack when we’re usually there right at the top,” Izzo summarized to Spartan Nation earlier this week. He’s right, and Spartan fans have probably noticed because they’ve become so accustomed to winning not only the total rebounding match up, but also grabbing more than their fair share on the Offensive end. After being beaten in that category by 3 at The Barn, the Spartans only edged Purdue at home by 1 last Saturday.
“I don’t think we’re going in as much, and it’s been one of the problems with Dawson since his injury,” Izzo explained. When you consider Branden Dawson was heralded as the best Offensive Rebounder ever to come into this program out of High School, that statement holds real weight. Yet, Dawson will still be counted on to lead the way on that side of the glass because of his (still) explosive hops and basket sense that puts him in position to rebound effectively. His skills around the rim can raise this aspect of the Spartans’ game another level during Big Ten play.
“The injuries to Gary Harris, the shoulders, have been a bigger problem than people know,” Izzo also added, before later revealing that the Freshmen dinged up his “other” shoulder earlier this year, and has since been kept out of many rebounding drills in practice. Harris strikes many as a “bigger Charlie Bell type Guard” in part because of his ability to go get Rebounds like the past Spartan great. As Harris gets healthier, he should make more of an impact on the Offensive glass. Izzo thought Harris got his shot back in the latter part of the Purdue game, and as his health improves, look for Harris’ rebounding numbers to increase as well.
“I’m hoping now that resurgence of Dawson will keep going like he did in the second half (of Purdue), and getting (Derrick) Nix back on track will help that,” Izzo laid out. If these Spartans want to contend for the Big Ten, they will have to find a way to establish an edge on the Offensive glass. More than maybe any other element of their game, they must develop a relentless commitment to do the gritty work needed to get Offensive Rebounds. Most teams don’t have the mentality and commitment needed to do so, so most never really contend for championships.
Another area to watch during the first Big Ten weeks is the Spartans playing rotation. As you know, with such a young team featuring Freshmen starters, Coach Izzo has been working hard to iron out a preferred rotation. Along the way he lost Travis Trice to injury, saw Gary Harris get banged up, and just before Conference play took a curve ball that few saw coming.
“When you have a kid leave at mid-season that was playing 17 minutes, that changes a lot,” Izzo explained, about the impact of Brandan Kearney’s transfer. As we discussed in the Spartan Nation “Mid Term” report, Kearney looked to be a key player off the bench. Izzo thinks they’ve adjusted to his defection now, but that their rotation may be unsettled for quite a while.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever get it there (this year) if you want the truth,” he noted. “It might be one of those years where it just doesn’t happen.” If it doesn’t, that shouldn’t necessarily doom the Spartans to be a team that never totally gets in sync, it should just mean that things could be a bit rocky at times depending on foul trouble, the game clock, and time out situations.
“My next big feat is getting some consistency to it as far as our staff standpoint…with some kind of pattern,” he said. Look for a lot of that progress to be made between now and the Ohio State game next Saturday, the 19th. The rotation and bench shouldn’t be counted on as much until then, but certainly will heavily from that point until the 31st as MSU will play OSU, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Illinois in those 13 days.
The Spartans won’t make it through that stretch without an extraordinary amount of passion, the likes of which many fans enjoyed over the weekend as Ray Lewis played his last game in Baltimore as a member of the Ravens. Tom Izzo was among those who took note. “When I was working on my Masters at Northern (Michigan), my other roommate was a guy named Jerry Rosburg, who’s a Special Teams Coach for the Ravens,” Izzo began. “I’d take great pride in calling him just to ask about Ray Lewis.”
Lewis is not only a future Hall of Famer and arguably in the top five to ever play his position, he’s been the heart and soul of a franchise that’s competed near the top of the NFL for most of his 17 year career. To Izzo, that’s only a part of his story. “Thirteen years ago he might have been a follower…and then he became a leader, and boy has he led.” This Spartan team doesn’t have anywhere near that much time, and needs to find stronger leadership to have success down the stretch.
“Every coach is envious of having a guy with those kind of leadership skills and that kind of passion (Lewis has),” Izzo remarked. Passion is an intangible the Spartan leaders will needed to display during the rest of this monster month of January. Wins will not come that easy. “You either got it in you, or you don’t,” Izzo said of a player’s passion. “Usually you got it in you because you worked your tail off to get here. It’s the guys that have been handed everything that sometimes don’t have as much passion.”
Izzo has even taped a couple of recent Lewis press conferences, planning to show them to his team. “I almost teared up the other day when I watched him on that last play,” he admitted. “Passion is not real teachable, but hopefully if you get people that have some and you get around (other) people…then it grows.” That’s kind of what happened in Baltimore with Ray Lewis and the Ravens during his career. Spartan Nation’s hoping for the same kind of thing to take flight later this month.
The Spot Up 3: A Set of Quick Ones to Dribble Around Your Basketball Mind
- In recent Spartan history players like Delvon Roe and Travis Walton have stepped forward to claim roles that have served their team before serving themselves. Those kinds of sacrificial acts don’t come along every year, but neither does great success. Keep an eye out for a player on this team to identify and claim a role in a similar fashion. The team could use it.
- The more you see Gary Harris, the more he reminds you of a bigger Charlie Bell. No Spartan roamed the court with the poise and pace of Bell in his day. Harris carries himself in a very similar fashion. Though he may look to jump for the NBA after just one year, hopefully he’ll have share some of Bell’s basketball sense and realize that a return for one more year could polish himself into a top 10 draft selection in 2014.
- Can we finally agree that the Big Ten season should start in December and be 20 games long? Fans and Coaches like of the Badgers’ Bo Ryan are on record wanting a full round robin to crown a true league champion. Enough with the non-conference fluff already, that’s what November, is for. Let’s see the best Big Ten season possible over about a 12 week period.
*Let me near all about it inside the Phalanx Forum and @JPSpartan