Hoops: When Gray's on, Spartans Soar

"History has shown that he has some ups and downs, but I felt good about where he was mentally," MSU coach Tom Izzo said about Marquise Gray after the two had a heart to heart. "I felt good about what we talked about."

EAST LANSING — The Michigan State basketball team is starting to look like Popeye after he popped a can of spinach.

The Spartans have flexed their muscles in the midst of an 11-game winning streak, a team that is hitting its stride as it heads into Wednesday nights' game against an improved Northwestern team.

But potential is a fickle beast, and along with the positive there is some negative.

The Spartans still have flaws that need to be corrected and if they are not, a loss in a strengthened Big Ten could be coming soon.

"We're still missing that killer instinct," center Goran Suton said this week after practice. "Once we're up 17 or 20 we need to finish teams off. Sometimes I don't think we come as focused or ready to practice as Coach would like us."

On the positive side, 11 consecutive victories against good competition while playing at nowhere near your peak is pretty impressive, and it provides an optimistic outlook for the future.

Coach Tom Izzo is seeing steady improvement in many areas, but one aspect of the MSU arsenal has lagged a little bit.

"We've rebounded the ball very well. We've shot the ball a lot better from three for the most part," Izzo said. "Our defense has definitely been better. Our offense has been inconsistent."

An inconsistent offense could hinder a team, ranked No. 7 in the nation, against the Wildcats because Northwestern has been applying some pressure defense lately.

In their win against Minnesota, the Wildcats forced 19 turnovers and in a close loss to Purdue, they forced 22 turnovers.

GRAY'S IMPORTANCE

On a team that has been fairly difficult to figure out, Marquise Gray has been the biggest conundrum. No one really knows how he is going to play from week to week, from game to game, or even half to half.

One thing that everyone can agree on is that when he does play well, the Spartans are nearly unbeatable. His 11-point performance against Illinois helped propelled MSU to a 16-1 record when he scores in double figures.

"I think a lot of our success might depend on how well Marquise does," Suton said recently. "If he could do what he did against Illinois, that would awesome."

From the seniors to the freshmen, everyone recognizes Gray's importance.

"Marquise is someone that we really need," freshman Draymond Green said. "At the same time, Marquise has the potential to do that every game"

That is what has been so frustrating, Gray can run the floor, and he has the athleticism to be an outstanding defender. Gray says that he performs better when he doesn't worry about much and plays carefree. It looked as if he played that way last Saturday, but it remains to be seen if he can continue that play.

His coach is hopeful that he can after the talk they had last Friday.

"History has shown that he has some ups and downs, but I felt good about where he was mentally," Izzo said. "I felt good about what we talked about."

TICKETS AVAILABLE

Tickets are available for the Michigan State's game vs. Northwestern Wednesday, Jan. 21 at 6:30 p.m.

Tickets are $13-30 and may be purchased through the MSU Athletics Ticket Office by phone at 1-800-GO-STATE or 517-355-1610 or on-line at www.msuspartans.com.


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