Maybe it's all a plan, and Tom Izzo will wave his wand and continue his incredible success in March. But right now, Michigan State looks like a team in crisis.
Its best perimeter defender and shooter, Chris Allen, was suspended for the first game of the Big Ten Tournament, an upset loss to Minnesota that ended the Spartans' hopes for a No. 2 or No. 3 seed. Its most talented athlete, Durrell Summers, was benched for the final 14 minutes of that game -- the second time in a month Izzo has banished Summers to the pine in favor of less-talented players.
Its star point guard Kalin Lucas, isn't playing well. Its talented sophomore forward, Delvon Roe, is grimacing through pain in a right knee that will need arthroscopic surgery as soon as the season is finished. And freshman center Derrick Nix is complaining to the press about playing time.
So hold off on picking the Spartans for their sixth Final Four in 12 years.
But understand that there's still enough experienced talent at Michigan State to get there.
"We have a lot of basketball we still have left to play," Izzo said after the loss to Minnesota. "We've got a good team. It's not a great team yet, but there's a lot of good teams out there. There's a lot of teams that aren't great right now."
The good news for the Spartans -- the No. 5 seed in the Midwest Region, playing No. 12 seed New Mexico State on Friday in Spokane, Wash. -- is that senior forward Raymar Morgan is playing some of the best basketball of his career, and sophomore forward Draymond Green is complementing with forceful effort.
It'll be up to the coaches and those two players, Izzo said, to get the rest of the Spartans on the same page.
"I like the challenge ahead of us right now," Izzo said, "because I want to really mix it up a little bit, and we're going to have some fun with the three of us, and we're going to go from there."
Allen will play in Friday's game, Izzo said Sunday, and he and Summers had a long talk Sunday to smooth out some issues.NOTES, QUOTES
--Durrell Summers had very little to say after Tom Izzo benched him for the stretch of the Spartans' Big Ten tournament loss to Minnesota, saying he didn't know why Izzo played walk-on Mike Kebler instead. Izzo said it was not to send a message, but that Kebler was simply playing better defense than Summers. Asked how we would get Summers' confidence back, Izzo responded with some anger.
"How do I get him to recover, or how do I get us to recover?" Izzo said. "I'm more worried about us recovering from his things, rather than him recovering from our things.
"I'm not worried about his confidence. I'm not worried at all about his confidence. I mean, confidence has nothing to do with guarding somebody."
--The Spartans have now made it to 13 straight NCAA Tournaments, which is now the third-longest streak in the nation with Arizona failing to make it. Kansas has the longest streak at 21 and Duke is at 15. Michigan State's streak is the second-longest in Big Ten history, with Indiana making 18 straight tourneys between 1986 and 2003.
--Michigan State's Big Ten tournament loss to Minnesota included several crucial plays, but the biggest problem for the Spartans came at the foul line. MSU was a miserable 18 of 34 from 15 feet away, with stars Kalin Lucas and Raymar Morgan missing four straight in a key stretch in overtime.
COACH: Tom Izzo, 15 years at Michigan State, 13th year in NCAA Tournament.
KEYS TO VICTORY: When the Spartans defend and rebound well and limit turnovers, they usually win. In terms of personnel, they need to keep senior F Raymar Morgan playing great basketball, get PG Kalin Lucas to rediscover his shooting touch and get wings Chris Allen and Durrell Summers refocused. Against New Mexico State, a fast, athletic team that likes to pressure the ball, the Spartans will get good shots as long as they don't cough it up. And Michigan State should have a significant rebounding edge, but the Aggies have a lot of shooters, a potential upset recipe.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If we're playing well, I think we're capable of beating a lot, lot, lot of teams in this country. Everybody? I don't know. But a lot of teams." -- Michigan State coach Tom IzzoSTRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SCOUTING REPORT: Michigan State has a lot of perimeter talent -- ranked the best backcourt in the nation by some preseason magazines -- but it has not performed with consistency. Still, the Spartans have one of the fastest lead guards in the nation in Kalin Lucas, gifted wings, a versatile combo forward in Raymar Morgan and two active forwards in Delvon Roe and Draymond Green. This team lacks an experienced center, and its outside shooting has not been as good as expected. The Spartans miss last season's leader and defensive stopper, Travis Walton, but they have played very good defense for stretches. Turnovers have been a problem for the Spartans as well. Their biggest edge is Tom Izzo, who is 31-11 all-time in the NCAA Tournament. His video scouting system is NBA level, and his complex, set-based offense is difficult for opponents to scout on short notice.
Michigan State 64, Michigan 48
Minnesota 67, Michigan State 62 (OT) (Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals)
vs. New Mexico State, Friday, March 19, NCAA Tournament, Midwest Regional first round
--F Delvon Roe admitted last week that he lied for a long time about pain in his right knee, because he wanted to keep playing this season. Roe started feeling the pain over the summer, and he said it felt similar to high school, shortly before he had microfacture surgery on the knee as a senior. He finally told the coaching staff after a Feb. 21 loss to Ohio State, and it turns out he just needs minor arthroscopic surgery after the season. In the meantime, Roe is playing through pain that he says is "hell" at times.
-- Freshman C Derrick Nix has moved back into the starting lineup and is becoming more of a factor late in the season. He gives the Spartans a credible low-post threat with touch and good hands. But after playing eight early minutes in Friday's loss to Minnesota, Nix did not see the floor again. He struggled to guard Minnesota's Colton Iverson. Afterward Nix said he was upset and responded when asked about his NCAA Tournament role: "I'm just gonna try to do the best I can do for us to win. If that's clapping on the bench, rebounding, making water for the leaders, that's what I'm gonna do."
-- Junior PG Kalin Lucas had been struggling as a decision maker since a Feb. 21 loss to Ohio State, following up a miserable game there with an eight-turnover stinker in a win at Purdue. Lucas had a better game against Minnesota -- with 18 points and four assists, including a dish to Raymar Morgan for the tying layup late in regulation -- and he may be as healthy as he's been since twisting his right ankle on Feb. 2. Lucas missed some practice time last week with a toe infection on the same foot, but antibiotics have cleared up that problem.
Previous Report: 03/13/2010