At the opening of the 2010-2011 basketball season I envisioned myself writing an article entitled “The Spartans Stomp” and it would recount the success and talent of the Michigan State basketball team as it rolled into Big Ten conference play, ready to stomp its way to another Big Ten title.
Instead, Michigan State has been dropped by every decent opponent it has faced, including a 67-55 whopping just handed to them in the Breslin Center by a so-so Texas team.
The 2010-2011 Michigan State basketball season started with high hopes. A talented and experienced roster bringing back many of the key players from a team that has gone to back-to-back final fours, a top five incoming recruiting class and the return of one of college basketball's most industrious coaches. Those hopes have all but faded into a lack of focus and effort, with the result of terrible decision making and a loss of the blue collar work ethic that has been the trademark of Spartan Teams.
This team understands that it is perhaps the greatest collection of talent and experience Tom Izzo has ever had under the roof of the Breslin Center. But this has yet to transfer into wins. Instead players seem to be caught with their eyes up in the rafters and all of the banners hung there by Izzo and his predecessors.
The defense, which has shown flashes of toughness and teeming with potential, is largely mired in ineptitude. Players are back pedaling and jogging down the court while opponents are driving to the basket for easy lay-ups. And when a rebound is coming down from the rim, players seem more content to let the other team snatch the ball for a quick put back, and thus an easy return to Spartan hands, than fighting for control.
The offense has likewise had its moments of glory but is largely an embarrassment. Horrendous passes into the seas of unfriendly colors, a refusal to drive to the basket, the inability to sink free throws and a mind-set that taking one shot and then giving the ball back to the opponent is good enough, has resulted in a largely low scoring and low excitement team.
Perhaps the biggest sign of the lack of effort is the already mentioned lack of rebounding on both ends of the court. Izzo has always prided himself on having one of the best rebounding teams in the country. The last I checked, the Spartans are only ranked at 92 in rebounding margin.
The whole blue collar work ethic seems to have vanished for a team that seems to expect its talent and experience to carry them. It won't. Only hard work will, and until the Spartans are ready to put in that hard work, Michigan State fans will be in for a bumpy ride.
Announcers and defenders might try to blame some of the woes on the Spartans being “small.” Somehow, three talented near seven footers in Payne, Sherman and Nix and four talented six and half footers in Roe, Green, Thorton, and Summers counts as small. They may not be the biggest team in the NCAA, but they enough pieces, and enough talent in those inches, that height shouldn't be used as an excuse.
Heading into conference play, I am nearly ashamed to be a Spartan fan, and while I will not hop off the band wagon, I will make a plea for the Spartan's players and coaching to buckle down, get to work and right the ship.
With the strength of the Big Ten this year, and four losses already on the board, Michigan State might not even make the tournament, let alone another Final Four. The talent and experience is still there for this team to make a big splash in conference play, but the sense of entitlement and destiny this team has been playing on needs to be replaced with the respect and work ethic of the Spartan teams of old.