Spartans need their swagger, toughness back

Mark Feb. 5 on your calendars. If the game when Michigan comes to Beast Lansing is anything like the last one, it is going to be a good one.

If the Spartans want to come out on top in the second meeting, they might want to take a lesson from their friends on the football field.

Heck, take a page out of Pat Narduzzi’s book and paraphrase it: Play 40 minutes with toughness. That mission is clear: Get tougher.

“I got a pretty good team that for the first time didn’t play with (enough) toughness,” Tom Izzo said.

Izzo’s long-standing motto has been “Players play — Tough players win.” Up until the past two games (especially against Michigan), the Spartans had been incredibly tough.

Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix were physical down low. Draymond Green brought tough leadership. Keith Appling plays defense as hard as anyone to wear a Spartan uniform in many years.

They have played with an incredibly sense of swagger for more than two months.

That great confidence and pride was damaged against Northwestern, and as a result, was barely visible against the Wolverines for any sustained time.

Mental mistakes were constant defensively and led to points on the scoreboard for Michigan. Physical mistakes became turnovers and tacky fouls.

Absent was the mental and physical toughness that define Izzo-coached teams. And if the Spartans want to get back to their winning ways, it will start with the return and revival of their toughness.

It will start with the abundance of first-year Izzo-ites in Brandon Wood, Brandan Kearney, Branden Dawson and Travis Trice. All of whom, spare Kearney, did not bring their best to Ann Arbor.

Dawson is as talented as a recruit as Izzo has brought to East Lansing in a long time, but the story from November remains today, he has to buckle down and develop sound defensive skills. Currently, by Izzo’s motto, Dawson barely qualifies as a player from the decrease in playing time.

Trice has shown flashes of being a star, but reverts to looking like a scared freshman with the blink of an eye. His consistency has to come about so Appling isn’t forced to play long minutes as he was against Michigan.

Wood must become the scorer he can be. It seems to be a mental battle of keeping his mind and his body on the same page, because when he gets rattled, his shot becomes erratic and all hope seems lost — as it did Tuesday.

Certainly, Payne is in this category of a player who needs to learn mental discipline on defense and is a phenomenal athlete who can change any game.

Good news for all of Spartan Nation, this team which no one expected much from, is 15-4 and still very much alive in the Big Ten race. As with any team, there is progress to be made. It is clear for the Spartans — they must become more battle-minded and play with the toughness they have shown for two months.

The beauty is the bones of a consistent, outstanding team are in place. When the infrastructure for success is set, it comes back to the players and coaches to build around and on it. This loss fell on both player and coach, and now the swagger just has to be restored. Focus shifts to the next one.

Remember this, these Spartans opened the season with two tough losses against two of the nation’s top teams before reeling off 15 wins in a row.

Now, they are coming off another two-game losing streak. How they respond is up to them, but when the Wolverines come to town, it’s time to rock them for 40 minutes with pure Michigan State toughness.

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Posted on January 18, 2012, in Basketball and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Time to bring out the old PPTPW shirts. Maybe Izzo can invite Narduzzi to a couple practices.

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