Coming off the deflating 58-57 loss at Michigan, and third straight, the Spartans are all but out of contention to repeat as Big Ten Champions. “Tough week for us,” Tom Izzo described to Spartan Nation earlier this week. After MSU kind of gave one away to the Wolverines in the 2nd Half, Indiana has since clinched a share of the Big Ten title. Catching the Hoosiers for a divided up championship is a long shot from here, requiring two MSU victories this week and a Michigan win over Indiana in Ann Arbor on Sunday. All of that simply means it’s time for this team to focus most on making a Tournament run.
“In some ways I feel this team has just as good a chance to go a long, long ways, as any I’ve had because of everybody we’ve played,” Tom Izzo said firmly this week. He may be onto something given the Spartans’ season long “March preparations,” and the lack of a clearly dominant team in College ball this year. This is not the year 2000, 2009, or 2012. There is no clearly dominant team. The National Champion is often more of a “National Tournament” winner than clearly the best team in the sport that year, which we’ve seen that happen more often in this era of the Tournament. These Spartans probably began building towards their Final Exam of a Big Dance after the plane trip back from Germany in November.
“We did a good job at everything but the turnovers,” Izzo said about the loss at Michigan. He felt the Spartans were well prepared after a solid week of practice, but turnovers sunk them once again. They were a major issue early in the year, have since been under better control, but returned Sunday with ferocity as UM converted 18 points off MSU turnovers. That should serve as a final reminder for the 2013 team that the quickest way to beat yourselves is by turning the ball over for easy scores.
The Spartan games this week should be more possession oriented than against the high flying, run and shoot type Wolverines. MSU hosts their top rival of the Izzo era once again on Thursday as Bo’s Badgers come to Breslin looking to slow the game into the 30s, and then close out the year Sunday with the unique Northwestern attack. A strong finish at home looks like exactly what’s needed to get this team back in gear to make a serious run.
“Neither one of us were picked this high and we’ve (both) had good years, very good years,” Izzo said about Wisconsin and MSU’s 2013. The Badgers come into East Lansing 20-9, 11-5 in the Big Ten, and more than a few W’s ahead of where many reasoned them to be. MSU sits at 11-5 also, 22-7 overall, but easily could’ve been about 3 wins better and ready to hang another Big Ten banner already. Wisconsin very rarely loses in Madison, but did 49-47 to MSU in a season highlight late in January. WE can therefore expect the Badgers to once again give MSU a very difficult test tomorrow night.
“I think we gotta get a lot of guys going that we didn’t get going (against Michigan),” Izzo proclaimed. “You lose a couple games…and maybe players lose a bit of confidence.” Besides a quiet night from Derrick Nix, Izzo admitted that two others will be important this March. “Trice and Dawson are keys,” he summed up. As we discussed in the Mid-Term Report, Dawson is this team’s true X-Factor. Trice, on the other hand, provides the effective depth and production needed in the Spartan back court.
Neither player had much of a summer, and Trice had much less of a Fall after the head injury nearly stopped him cold. Izzo believes that lack of practice time to develop their games is now showing up for both guys. “Trying to keep that in perspective (their time missed due to injury) has been very difficult for me this year.”
Trice is the Spartans’ best ball distributor, and may emerge as the team’s leader over the next two seasons. If he’s going to do so, perhaps we’ll see some of that leadership begin to break through in the coming weeks. Trice has the mentality and court vision to make a difference, get the Spartans into the right sets, and perhaps free up Keith Appling to get better shots and better matchups, especially as the Spartans break away from the Big Ten grind.
Without a doubt, this team needs Keith Appling to get back to being Keith Appling. If the final inbounds play against Michigan gone as planned, Appling might have had another chance to close out another late W. “He’s not shooting the ball well, but yesterday he played a lot better than he played in the two games before that,” Izzo explained. There’s little doubt whether he’ll be back on track soon. “That hasn’t happened to him (a deep slump) very often, so I’m looking at that as not as the norm,” Izzo added. “(I’m) not happy with the fact that he’s struggling to make a shot, but I like his whole approach to it.”
Before then, the Spartans must get back on track and try to lock down a 2-seed for the NCAA Tournament, or at least a short trip for the first weekend to The Palace at Auburn Hills. “We know what our mistakes cost us,” Izzo conceded. In reality those mistakes, some faulty luck, and maybe some iffy officiating (ex. the first Indiana game), have all cost MSU an outright 2013 Big Ten regular season title. That should begin to quickly fade away from this team’s focus, with all now looking ahead to the Big Dance. If everyone Green is going in one direction, Izzo sees great possibilities. “I feel very confident we’re still going to be able to make a run.”
Now it’s time for his Spartans to complete their final preparations this week and next at the Big Ten (Exhibition) Tournament. The teams that tend to make the deepest Tournament runs have most often been preparing for the longest time. That’s because it’s not necessarily the best team that wins each round in the Tournament, but rather the toughest team to beat. The toughest most often make the Final Four, and sometimes even top it off by winning the whole thing.
The Spot Up 3: A Set of Quick Ones to Dribble Around Your Basketball Mind
- The First Four of the NCAA Tournament is not the First Round, so CBS and the NCAA should stop with the shenanigans already. No one else calls them that, and they never will. Recognize your glaring error and fix it before you go about embarrassing yourselves too much further this time, though that is often the NCAA way.
- The Big Ten Tournament is still just an exhibition. Your team is better off winning Thursday and Friday, then losing on Saturday in order to get back to campus and start NCAA preparations. Until the NCAA expands the Big Dance wisely by making certain Conference Tournament Championships worth a First Round bye, that’s going to remain the rule of thumb.
- It’s good to hear Branden Dawson plans to return for his Junior season, and it’s the right “Basketball Decision.” Hopefully the other Spartans NBA prospects follow suit, realizing there’s a significant difference from potentially being drafted by the NBA to having an NBA career.