The Spartans (13-1, ranked #6 AP) should have no trouble with the Boilermakers, even if Neitzel has an off night, but State has high aspirations - a Big Ten championship, Big Ten Tournament Championship and an NCAA Championship - and they know they'll need Neitzel if they're even going to be in those conversations.
It seemed to start with the Spartan Clash when the senior was frustrated with the "box-and-one" defense the Longhorns employed, resulting in only 12 points in 36 minutes played.
He followed with a workmanlike 16-points in a win over Wisconsin Green-Bay but struggled to just a four-point performance against Minnesota, shooting just two-of-eleven from the field and going 0-for-6 from three point distance.
The performance didn't go unnoticed by MSU head coach Tom Izzo. "I never saw him miss open threes like that," Izzo told GSN's Joe Torok.
"I looked at the number of shots taken (by Neitzel) because I think it's concerning to some people, and maybe even to me to be honest with you," coach Tom Izzo said at his weekly press conference.
"I looked at the number of shots taken (by Neitzel) because I think it's concerning to some people, and maybe even to me to be honest with you.
So this is something that, I think the average fan and the coaches are on the same page on, which happens, you know, once in a millenium."
Izzo feels that Neitzel may be feeling a little bit of the pressure of wondering whether he's good enough to be an NBA player.
"You can blow it off like it's no pressure, but it is pressure. [He] could be playing in the NBA, he could be playing in Europe," said Izzo who added But he is mentally tough enough to work himself through that. It's not like he's had a lot of bad games."
True, but everyone who's watched Michigan State knows that Neitzel is the "straw that stirs the drink". Without him playing at peak efficiency, the Spartans aren't likely to have a very long run in any tournament.
So when the Spartans and the Boilers tip it off tonight, all eyes will be on Neitzel to see if he can snap out of what's beginning to look like a slump.
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