Monday, February 28, 2011

Where did the Glory Years go?

I think I jinxed MSU with my last post about how many positives I saw in the Minnesota game. The MSU-Purdue game started rather well--State kept it close and fought back after a couple of runs and then in the second half, it all went downhill. It was disappointing for sure, but I have to say, the team's performance isn't what bothered me the most.

The toughest pill to swallow is the fact that a team walked into OUR HOME COURT and won by 20. That should never, EVER happen. And it should especially never happen at Michigan State. Granted, Purdue is a great team. I don't think anyone disputes that. But what also became apparent yesterday is that our home court advantage has all but disappeared. And that, my friends, falls on the fans.

For as long as I can remember, the Breslin Center has been described as one of the toughest places to play and the Izzone has been one of the best student sections around. I'm not sure either deserves that label anymore. There were a few times this year when the section was on its game--the wins over Wisconsin and Illinois probably wouldn't have happened without the fans willing the team to victory. But for a lot of the season, I've watched games at other arenas--Purdue, Wisconsin, Duke--and thought "Breslin isn't like that anymore."

It's painful to write that. I was an Izzone member for 4 years and consider it one of the most amazing privileges I had as a student--but that's what being a member of the Izzone is. A PRIVILEGE.

Yesterday, I saw empty seats in the general stands--lots of empty seats. I rarely see members of the Izzone jumping up and down during games and it seems like people are more inclined to be on their phones while the band plays the fight song. Overall, suffice it to say the general energy during yesterday's game was lacking...and it was embarassing. That crowd should have been WILLING those guys back into the game. They should have been clapping and cheering and giving that team every ounce of their energy to show that they believed in them. They should have spent their afternoon protecting their own house and showing Purdue why all those banners hang from the rafters. Those fans should have filed out at the end of the game as drained as if THEY had been running the length of the court. Instead, they faded down the stretch of the second half along with the team. I know that as MSU fans we've all been spoiled over the last few years what with all the Big Ten championships and Final Fours--but that shouldn't give us a sense of entitlement.

And look, I get it--it's been a rough season. I've been as disappointed and as critical as anyone. I understand feeling like there was a lack of effort from the team or just flat-out not liking when your team loses big. But the last few games have been such a step in the right direction--I would hate to see it all be for nothing.

I think it's evident that as a team, the guys have their heads down--I'm going to go out on a limb and say THEY probably don't enjoy losing either. They've been putting in extra practice, answering the questions, trying to find a solution. And now, they need US.

It's easy to be a fan when your team is on top. It doesn't take much to smile and nod when the analysts on CBS, ESPN and the Big Ten Network talk about what a great team Michigan State is and how Tom Izzo is the greatest coach alive. The test comes when things get tough--that's when the fans are most important. It's our job to give them the confidence to know they can win.

The road to the NCAA tournament has been filled with potholes---but there are still a few miles to go. Let's see if we, as fans, can give our team's engine a little more power. Wednesday is the last home game--i.e. the final game for Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers. It's a game against "lowly" Iowa--but I want to see the fans act like it's a game to seal the Big Ten title. I want to see the Izzone be louder than it's ever been. I want all those fans in Breslin and beyond to show our seniors how much we appreciate them and the memories they've given us--in good times and in bad. I want every player on that court to know that Spartans stand together no matter what the scoreboard may say. I want the Izzone to rock the way it used to.

I'll be watching from Chicago--I hope I can hear the fans all the way from EL.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It wasn't pretty, but they got it done...

Greetings fellow bball lovers!

Being a Spartan fan is always a rollercoaster ride--the joy, the frustration, the heart conditions...and of course, this men's basketball season is no exception.

The past few games have been a perfect example--there was the crushing of Penn State, the close loss to Ohio State, a solid but hard-fought victory over Illinois and of course, last night's squeaker at Minnesota.

What baffles me is the consistency of their inconsistency, but part of me doesn't really care--as long as they find a way to get it done. I don't know it's if the improved health of Kalin Lucas, the emerging of the bench/freshmen or the sense of urgency that comes from the realization that they might not make the tournament, but overall, I finally see the desire to WIN. There were many times over the past couple of months I doubted it was still there, but lo and behold, apparently it was still bubbling (no pun intended-ha!) under the surface. THANK GOODNESS.

So let's start with some positives...

1.) Kalin Lucas: Ladies and Gentlemen, he's BACK--and not a moment too soon. In the games against Illinois and Minnesota, he's pretty much put the team on his back and kept them in the game. One of the anchors on SportsCenter made a comment that the Spartans are "a one man team." I don't necessarily agree with that 100%, but it does give me some comfort that when MSU is struggling offensively, he puts the ball in his hands and finds a way to score. I think it also helps the other guys--when defenses key on Lucas, it opens up more for them to find shots or crash the boards for those all-important offensive rebounds.

2.) Draymond Green has gone back to basics. As the Spartans have struggled this season, I felt like Green has tried to do too much. His heart is in the right place, but his head was WAY too in the game. Green made his name because he does all the little things--passing, rebounding, grabbing loose balls, being a vocal leader for the team. Because he did those things, his opportunities to score naturally arose. However, when the team was struggling, all that went out the window because he wanted to do it all--but when he does that it doesn't work. After the Penn State game (TRIPLE-DOUBLE!), he said the coaches had put together a reel that reminded him of why he is successful--being the Glue Guy. I think it's safe to say that with the exception of the occasional ill-advised 3 (and not every 3 he takes is ill-advised), the message came through.

3.) Bench contributions. I wonder if Mike Kebler and Austin Thornton ever expected this kind of weight on their shoulders late in the season. At first, it seemed like they may have been a little intimidated, or at least thrown off, by their role as major contributors. Regardless of that shaky start, it seems like they're getting more and more comfortable with it. And God bless Kebler for hitting those 2 free throws last night to seal the win at Minnesota! Additionally, the development of the freshmen and post players makes me REALLY happy. Appling is showing how he will be a big-time player--he stays cool under pressure, plays great defense and is quick with the ball. Payne and Sherman are also showing some great toughness and footwork down low. Even Derrick Nix has been stepping up and making plays--LOVE!

4.) Delvon Roe is a champion. His injuries have been well-documented...I even propose that we create a new scale of pain called "The Roe Threshold." A normal person has a scale of 1-10 for pain threshold. For Roe, a normal person's 10 is like his 5. So anytime a player gets injured, we can compare it on The Roe's a way higher standard. For example, a player gets a leg cramp? On a normal scale, that's like a 3...on the Roe Threshold it would be a 0. And of course, the only 10 on The Roe Threshold is something akin to amputation without anesthesia. The kid has more heart than anyone else I've seen this season...though, I wouldn't expect much less from a kid that walked into MSU with a giant Sparty face tattooed on his arm.
Those are all great things, right? Correct. But here are a few brief things that still concern me...

1.) Durrell Summers. I wish I could get all irritated because the media has been harping on his struggles...but I can't. He's a great player and we need him. I'm glad he got some points last night, because he's clearly all in his head right now...he was even missing LAYUPS. Poor kid. Get it together Durrell! We need you!

2.) Reaction to the zone. For some reason, zone defenses seem to bamboozle my beloved Spartans. If teams want to force MSU to beat them from the 3, the shooting percentages right now suggest that's a great strategy. Furthermore, the offense was SO anemic last night that about 75% of the team was afraid to shoot the ball. Yikes. I have faith in the coaching staff on that one though. Here's hoping...

3.) TURNOVERS...definitely improving, but they are still a bit too sloppy with the ball. I'm beginning to think wanting that to change is wishful thinking, of the best and worst things about being a Spartan is that we never lose hope...


Monday, February 21, 2011

By Popular Demand...

I've been told by a reader (I know, people actually read this--and he's not even related to me!) that I need to post more often. This is very true and I've really been slacking this year, so this week I launch an attempt to increase the frequency of my postings.

The first thing I want to address is the craziness of the #1 debate. Between last Sunday and this past Sunday, Kansas, Texas, Pitt and Ohio State all lost. So now everyone wants to know "who's #1?" My response: Who cares?

At this point in the season, it doesn't matter very much (to be fair, I've often said rankings never matter and I stand by that, but I digress). There are always lots of upsets in the final few weeks before conference tournaments. Teams have seen each other before, they've watched each other throughout the season, bubble teams are playing with more urgency in a last minute attempt to secure an NCAA tourney bid, everyone's tired, etc. Right now, despite what any coach or player says, the tournament is on the brain. I don't say that as a criticism--it's completely natural. In a little over a month, we'll know for sure who's I'm not going to waste time debating it.

In other news, where did St. John's come from?!? I absolutely love any time there is a resurgence of a program--Arizona, Indiana (which still has a way to go, but they are definitely improving), etc. I think it only makes the game more exciting when every game is competitive and every opponent has to be taken seriously. Let's be honest--so many of the great teams that are disliked (Duke, UNC, Kansas, Kentucky and dare I say, in the last few years, Michigan State) are disliked because they're always on top and frankly, people get sick of it. Steve Lavin has done a tremendous job with that group and I would hate to face them in the tourney. One thing I would love to ask him is how much of his experience as an analyst has helped him--or has it? The man has spent the past several years watching hours and hours of these top teams, coaches and players--how much of that knowledge makes a difference when he is preparing his team for a game? It may not matter at all, but the concept is fascinating to me.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"Border War" and other musings...


I figured I would crawl out of the Hole of Despair that is MSU basketball (blown out by IOWA?!? IOWA...REALLY!?! COME ON) and offer a few thoughts about something slightly more positive...and yes, I mean there were positives for BOTH Kansas and Mizzou.

I was actually looking forward to this game mostly because I haven't gotten a chance to see Missouri at all, thanks to most of their games being on ESPNU (I know, I know, I need to upgrade my cable.). It was hard to see them really winning at Allen Fieldhouse, but after watching the first half I really thought they had a fighting chance.

Mizzou crashed the boards hard from the opening tip (which was crucial) and showed a lot of patience on the offensive end--moving the ball, running their sets and taking good shots. Kansas made a couple of good runs throughout the half and you could see Mizzou panic a few times and start to force the ball, take quick shots and turn it over--and of course, KU ate that up. Each time though, the Tigers re-grouped, took a deep breath and came right back. They were able to make mistakes, shake them off and get back to doing what worked. It also helped that Kansas makes a LOT of stupid fouls. They do a lot of little chippy backcourt reach-ins or body bumps after a shot and one reason Mizzou kept it close because they got to the free throw line (they shot 81% for the game. 81%!!! Sigh. I miss the days when MSU shot that way). It's hard to see many weaknesses in this Jayhawk team, but that one may come back and bite them later.

The second half was a bit different. Kansas came out of the gate and made a huge run (with the help of the Morris brothers asserting themselves down low) and all of a sudden, the game was theirs. It was one of those "blink and they're up 10" situations. That was kind of bummer because Mizzou still shot really well and did a lot of great things...just not defensively.

This is stating the obvious, but KU is GOOD. They have that other gear that really good teams have where the other team is hanging around, hanging around and then all of a sudden, KU turns it on and goes up 15 within a couple of minutes and you're sitting there going, " did that just happen?" They have a lot of weapons on both ends of the floor and the Morris brothers are pretty awesome (ugh, it kills me to say that...). Last year's team was supposed to win it all and it seems to me that this team might actually be better than last year.

That said, Mizzou impressed me. They play really hard, which of course, is to be expected of a Mike Anderson team. Additionally, they have a good mix of veteran and young talent, they have passion and they seem to really listen to their coaches. I only see good things for them in this last month before the tourney.

Which brings me to....PHIL PRESSEY! I think he might be my new favorite. The kid played hard, controlled the ball really well, hit 3s from the parking lot, and was TICKED when Mike Anderson took him out of the game. He wasn't disrespectful about it, but the look on his face was priceless. I have to say I love that passion--the "I don't need to rest, I will play all game because my being on the floor makes a difference" attitude. I like what I see and I'm hoping he sticks around to give me a few more years of joy and doesn't pull a Willie Warren where he makes a big splash his freshman year then falls off the radar (Oh, Willie, what happened to you...).

In other news, as amazing as KU fans are, it came to my attention that the "Rock Chalk Jayhawk" chant is kind of haunting...and by "haunting" I mean creepy. Really, really creepy.

Rivalry Week continues! Enjoy!