Can Spartans rekindle lost magic?

The Michigan State faithful is used to national championships, Big Ten championships, Final Four and Elite Eight appearances. That isn't what they're going to get from this team.

(EAST LANSING) This isn't what Spartan basketball fans are used to.

MSU fans have become somewhat spoiled ever since Tom Izzo took over as head coach of the Green and White basketball team seven season ago.

The Michigan State faithful is used to national championships, Big Ten championships, Final Four and Elite Eight appearances.

That isn't what they're going to get from this team.

Oh, this year's edition of the Spartans started out with the typical lofty expectations, a #3 overall ranking, one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the nation and were the favorites to reclaim the Big Ten championship.

So far they've bombed on all counts.

They #3 ranking quickly plummeted after non-conference losses to Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, Oklahoma, UCLA and Syracuse. They sputtered at the start of the Big Ten season, losing to new top rival Wisconsin on the road to start the season. But then the Spartans rebounded climbing back into the league race with spurts of hot shooting and tough defense reminiscent of Green and White squads of the past.

Those championship MSU teams were built on heart, guts and spirit. Players like Antonio Smith, Aloysius Anagonye, Adam Ballinger, Mateen Cleaves and Zach Randolph were physical first, beating up opposing teams on the glass and then wearing them out with a championship mentality that never quit.

Those lessons were supposed to be passed down by players like Marcus Taylor, Jason Richardson, Erazem Lorbek and Randolph. But rather than passing what they learned on to the next group of Spartys, they passed on returning to East Lansing altogether jumping for the mega-dollars of the NBA. OK, how about for the Euro dollars (Lorbek) abroad? OK, well how about the (Taylor) CBA...uh well...any dollars?

Whatever, you get the picture.

This year's edition of the Spartans were a different animal, unfamiliar to most avid Spartan watchers. Rather than beating opponents with grit, determination and sheer willpower, this years' bunch appears to be a finesse team with a bunch of holes. They are unable to run with most running teams; they are unable to shoot outside consistently and can't hang on to the basketball.

The way the Spartans have played this year, it took a masterful coaching job by Izzo to coax out each of those 17 wins this season.

But, Izzo doesn't get carte-blanch.

MSU's problems start with Izzo's failure to recruit a solid point guard after the ill-advised defection of Taylor. Chris Hill, Alan Anderson and junior college transfer Rashii Johnson all have tried, and basically failed to fill the role. Eventually the Spartans settled on Anderson. They hope to permanently fill that role with incoming recruit Drew Neitzel.

They have been inconsistent shooting the basketball. At times, they've lit it up from three point range and then have gone ice cold. MSU hopes that will be helped by the arrival of recruit Eric Devendorf.

They biggest problem has been the lack of physicality from a MSU team that often was compared to a football team in shorts. Without Lorbek and with freshman Delco Rowley unable to make much of a difference, MSU was forced to ride the back of sophomore forward Paul Davis.

Davis is talented to be sure, but his inability at times to finish around the basket and his seeming disdain for contact continue to tarnish what could be a NBA all-star in waiting.

Then there is the unreached potential of the trio of guards in Hill, Anderson and Flint native Kelvin Torbert. None have emerged as the go-to guy MSU has so desperately needed down the stretch of close games.

All these factors have combined to make this year's edition of the Spartans a very mediocre 17-10 team.

The most disappointing moment occurred last week. After MSU had put together a string of four straight conference wins, their they were, at home in the Breslin Center, needing a win over conference foe Wisconsin to claim a Big Ten title.

The banner and confetti was staged in the rafters, but that's where it remained. MSU lost that game, its fourth straight to Wisconsin and another chance to stamp itself as something was gone.

Now, MSU is running out of opportunities. If they can put together enough of a run to win the Big Ten tournament, that would give them something to build upon as they prepare for the NCAA tourney.

While no one is counting the Spartans out, it's hard to count them in either. After a first round bye, the Spartans are bound to run into one of two teams that have combined to give MSU three of their ten losses this season, Wisconsin and Illinois.

Can they rise to the occasion, summoned some of the spirit of MSU teams of the past for another long tournament run? Can they get it together just long enough to perhaps hang a Big Ten tournament banner from the rafters of the Breslin?

Stay hopeful, but don't hold your breath.


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