How’s that one saying go?
“It’s not about the size of the dog in the fight. It’s about the size of the fight in the dog.”
That’s the mantra Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo should be relaying to his basketball team. After all, the Spartans have played two lackluster efforts in big games against notable opponents.
First there was the North Carolina Tar Heels. Although the defending national champions lost a group of great players to the NBA, it was still a chance for the Spartans to get revenge and amend the shortcomings of their national title bout last April.
Yet in the end, the Spartans fell short after a poor outing.
And then there was last night.
The Texas Longhorns were coming off a big win at Cowboys Stadium against that same Tar Heels squad, which shot the lights out against the Spartans.
Even though the Spartans had won the last three outings against the Longhorns, last night was a different kind of game.
The Longhorns came in as the second-ranked team in the country, while the Spartans barely cracked the top-10. Izzo and company had a chance to get back on track and defeat a very good team, but a close game turned into a double-digit loss.
Let me begin by saying that effort has not been part of the Spartans’ recent woes. The players are playing hard and being aggressive, toughening up on defense and crashing the boards.
Where the problem lies is bad decisions and bad fundamentals. Careless turnovers and thoughtless choices on the hardwood have cost Michigan State a few big games.
It must be difficult for such talented players to endure and it isn’t any easier for the fans.
Seeing a power forward hand off the basketball to the point guard near the half-court line is just bad fundamentals.
Falling asleep on an inbounds play and leaving the opposing team’s best long-range shooter wide open is bad fundamentals.
Not helping your teammate bring the ball up the floor and watching it get taken away by a pair of defenders is bad fundamentals.
There seems to be a trend here.
I can only imagine how Izzo will work his players in practice from this point on, but the bigger picture is not as bleak.
If you look at the North Carolina game, the Tar Heels weren’t missing shots and ended up with a ridiculous shooting percentage.
And last night the Spartans were either dead even or ahead of Texas almost all game until they gave up a string of big plays late.
As the season continues, these tough losses will only make the Spartans a tougher team to beat in March (and it seems to be that way every year).
The Spartans never procure the best regular season record, nor do they normally end up as the top-ranked team in the nation. They play to win when it counts.
There is a lot of work to be done before now and then.
It’s fundamental, Watson.