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2010-2011 Michigan State Basketball Mid-Year Review: What Is Wrong with MSU?

Peter BenoitContributor IJanuary 18, 2011

ST. LOUIS - MARCH 26:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans directs his players in the second half against the Northern Iowa Panthers during the midwest regional semifinal of the 2010 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Edward Jones Dome on March 26, 2010 in St. Louis, Missouri. Michigan State defeated Northern Iowa 59-52.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

When most people think about Michigan State basketball under Tom Izzo, they think about big, strong, physical teams that rebound extremely well.  They think about 13 consecutive NCAA tournament bids, nine Sweet 16s, seven Elite Eights, six Final Fours, a national championship, and six Big Ten titles. 

So what is happening to Tom Izzo’s team this year?  This group of players is not a typical Tom Izzo team.

Tom Izzo has a rebounding drill where players wear football pads and helmets to give them toughness mentally and physically and his teams never lose rebounding battles.  Nine times in the last 15 seasons, Michigan State has been in the top 10 in rebounding, and has led the nation in rebounding three times.  These teams are known to pound the ball inside, dominate the glass and make free throws.  Well, were known.

This year Michigan State is yet to show the toughness and dominance down low that they are accustomed to having.  Despite the recent win against Wisconsin, Michigan State has been refusing to score points in the paint.  Draymond Green, arguably their most important forward, is shooting more three-pointers than most of the guards on the team.  This year, Michigan State is a disappointing 34th in the nation in rebounding; this is nowhere near the top 10 finishes of previous years. 

Following the disappointing blowout loss against Syracuse, Coach Izzo called them a “pretty-boy, jump-shooting team.”  In that game they were out-rebounded by eight, a statistic that is shocking for the Spartans.

MSU is surprisingly losing a majority of battles for loose balls and is getting beat by its own game. 

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Another statistic baffling to Spartan fans is the free-throw shooting.  This year, MSU is shooting just 65.7 percent from the line.  Since the turn of the century, State has never shot this poorly at free throws.  Normally, they shoot at least 70 percent from the line, occasionally closer to 80 percent.  So it is not surprising to see MSU struggle when some of its best players and most frequent free-throw shooters are only 50 percent from the free-throw line. 

All of these struggles lead to the conclusion that MSU lacks an identity.  They are taught to be tough and physical, but during the games they are getting knocked off loose balls.  Big Ten basketball does not allow timid teams to compete for championships, and until the Spartans find the mental and physical toughness, their struggles will continue.

Although the Spartans in recent years have struggled early due to a brutal schedule, this is the only team in recent memory that cannot match the opponents’ physicality.  Generally, the Spartans are dictating the style of play by attacking down low and being tenacious.  There is no doubt that this team, previously ranked No. 2 in the preseason, has all of the talent to make another Final Four run.  However, until they start playing tough, they will continue to be inconsistent because they will be relying too heavily on the perimeter jump shot. 

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