As Big Ten season starts, MSU still hoping for NCA

"It's a whole new season. We've got to come out and take all the things we learned from the non-conference and use the good things and work on the things we didn't do well and just come out and play basketball." --Freshman guard Shannon Brown

(EAST LANSING) - When it rains it pours.

It started getting cloudy when the MSU announced its preseason scheduled.

The drizzle began when Erazem Lorbek announced he was going to turn profession...in Europe.

Losses to Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, Oklahoma, UCLA and Syracuse turned the drizzle into a downpour and now, it's a full fledged storm. Talk of dissension among the players over coach Tom Izzo's hard driving style emerged.

Negative recruiters picked up on the theme and are now citing the impending transfer of troubled guard Brandon Cotton as a reason, not to go to Michigan State. "I don't plan on him being back as a player," said Izzo of Cotton, who is still enrolled at the University.

But make no mistake, Spartan fan, MSU will be OK. Tom Izzo will use the early season embarrassment as incentive to hit the recruiting trails and build a tougher, more talented team. And there is a silver lining in the early struggles of the Spartans. No more is there talk of sophomore Paul Davis going pro. Freshman Shannon Brown, perhaps the most talented player on the MSU squad has gained valuable experience against the top teams in the nation and is gaining confidence.

Going into the Big Ten season which starts tomorrow against Wisconsin at the Kohl Center, Michigan State now has the chance to learn from all the lumps it suffered in the brutal non-conference season. If it can right the ship, MSU can still recover in time to be a part of the NCAA tournament. It has the Big Ten regular season and the Big Ten post-season tournament as opportunities to get things right.

"It's fair to say our backs are against the wall in terms of the NCAA tournament, but I don't lay in bed thinking about that," Izzo said. "If we can win 12 or 13 more games, we'll have a chance to win the Big Ten and the rest will take care of itself.

"If we win that many games and we don't make the tournament, then I've learned a good lesson."

But rather than expect MSU to fold up and come back next year, expect the experience of the Spartans to begin to shine. Juniors Kelvin Torbert, Alan Anderson and Chris Hill should emerge and take off the wraps that have chained them all season long and play the way they did in the NCAA tournament.

"The one thing we can say is that we have been tested," said Chris Hill. "We've been to the toughest places there are to play. Wisconsin is no different than where we've been. We've got to take that and go with it. They're going to come out aggressive. They have been playing well. We just have to use the game to get us going and do the things we've been working on."

Davis said among the lessons the Spartans have learned is they have to communicate and hang together. "I think we may be relying on help just a little too much. We've just got to communicate. We watched tape of the championship year and watched how they played. They made turnovers, but they helped each other on the defensive end and they were together as a team out there. If we do that together on the court, I think we're really going to turn around defensively."

Brown, who is emerging as a future leader, says "it's a whole new season. We've got to come out and take all the things we learned from the non-conference and use the good things and work on the things we didn't do well and just come out and play basketball."

Count on Michigan State to do just that, come out and play basketball, Izzo style. Is that the sun peaking through?


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