Spartans Basketball Notebook

SI analyst Ryan Wallace breaks down the current state of Spartans' basketball, including the status of Alan Anderson, Kelvin Torbert's turnaround, and Rashi Johnson's 'education' among other items of interest. This commentary also includes quotes from Tom Izzo's Monday press conference regarding the basketball team.

  The Spartans, who like most teams in the Big Ten have taken a beating on the road, may have an advantage as the season winds down.

  Of MSU's 14 wins, only three have come on the road. The good news for the Spartans, following tonight's game at Illinois, is that four of the last five will be at the Breslin Center.

  MSU is 11-1 at home, but the competition should prove to be a huge test for this young team. The Spartans will play Syracuse on Sunday, followed by Minnesota, Purdue and Iowa.

  MSU head coach Tom Izzo said, there's no time to think that just because you're at home that it means it will be an automatic win.

  "I think we have a better chance to win," Izzo said. "I mean Illinois is a tough road game and then with a Purdue coming in playing awfully well and Minnesota might be playing as well the last couple games, you know we still have a lot of work to do at home.

  He added this week's competition may be the toughest all season.

  "It is a big week and I think our guys have approached that way in practice," Izzo said.

 

Coach Anderson

 

  Sophomore forward Alan Anderson has found himself in some uncharted territory. Following a severe dislocation of his right pinkie finger before the Wisconsin game on Feb. 11, Anderson has become a cheerleader and coach from the Spartans bench.

  Izzo said Alan's been great, but he'd rather have his most versatile player on the court contributing.

  "Since he's been hurt, as he said to me, ‘boy things look a little different when you're sitting here watching them,'" Izzo said.

   "Every once a while I'll be really getting on a guy that was moping or not doing what he was suppose to do and he says its a lot easier to see it from here then it is out there and I said it's a lot easier to play then it is to coach, so get your butt back out there."

  Anderson had started to emerge as the Spartans leader and his play on the court was starting to pick up. He is still the teams' second leading scorer at 9.5 points per game and fourth in rebounds at 3.7 per game

 

Whose turn is it now?

 

  Can you name the Spartans leading scorer in the last three games? It's a trick question because MSU has had a trio of players leading them in scoring.

  Against Indiana it was freshman center Paul Davis with 21. Against Wisconsin it was freshman forward Erazem Lorbek pouring in 19 points, and against Northwestern it was sophomore guard Kelvin Torbert scoring 22 points.

  All three scoring outputs were career highs, but it's not exactly what Izzo was looking for in a leading scorer.

  "That's the one think that we don't have that the four teams that are leading the league or right up there all have," Izzo said.

   He said Purdue's Willie Deane, Michigan's LaVell Blanchard, Wisconsin's Kirk Penney and Illinois's Brian Cook have all been constants and it's something that gives them a definite edge.

  Izzo said sophomore guard Chris Hill may have the capability of being a "constant," but with injuries he has assumed the role of point guard, which has limited his scoring chances.

  He also said last year he was helped out by Marcus Taylor and senior forward Adam Ballinger who helped take the pressure off him.

  Taylor has since departed for a professional career and Ballinger has performed well below par in his senior campaign.

  Izzo said when it comes down to crunch time it's always helpful to know who to give the ball to.

  "To me still at the end of games coaches have to know, players have to know who is the go-to guy," he said. "That's been a difficult part, the guys maybe aren't doing exactly what they've been doing in the past, but it creates another problem."

 

The education of Rashi Johnson

 

  Coming from a junior college to a premier college basketball can be somewhat overwhelming for just about anyone.

  Now imagine having to replace one of the Big Ten's best players last year and earning respect in one of the toughest conferences.

  For junior guard Rashi Johnson nothing has been easy and maybe that's what's got him through it.

  Johnson was set to be a solid backup to Hill, who would be assuming the role vacated by Taylor, but that's not how it all turned out. Just six games into the season Johnson went down with a stress fracture in his foot and missed seven weeks of action.

  Instead of folding up his tent or throwing down his cards, Johnson has continued to work hard and become the player everyone thought he could be including Izzo.

  "Players always feel that they need a coach to have confidence in them, but it's a two-way street," he said. "You have to have confidence in the player too and just the way Rashi has handled everything has made me feel better and better.

  "One thing he is living up to is I thought he'd be really good defensively. Even if it's getting back on the break he is so much better than some of our other guys. He's there to disrupt things and pick-off things."

  Johnson is still rusty in his timing and knowledge of his teammates' abilities, but it's something Izzo said he will overcome.

  In the last seven games Johnson has seen his minutes increase from four or five to a season-high 15 against Northwestern. With his minutes going down, Johnson's turnovers have started to come down (He hasn't turned the ball over in his last 30 minutes of play.)

  Izzo said he'll continue to get more minutes, especially with Anderson out and knows how tough this kid is and just how valuable he is.

  "He's way surpassed the things I thought about him," Izzo said. "When I look at his academic stuff and how he's handled not playing as much or how he handled the injury, how he was on the bench – the guy's been awesome and I attribute a lot of to maybe he's been through tougher things than not playing in a game or an injury or being told something by a coach.

  "I don't think there's any question that Rashi would be a 20-minute a game player right now and playing very well if he's had those seven weeks back."

 

Reaching new heights

 

  Last season a lot of people wrote off Kelvin Torbert as a flop. Instead of accepting this label, Torbert has decided to do something about it.

  His 22-point performance against Northwestern was just a culmination of how hard he has worked in the off-season and following ankle surgery earlier in the year.

  It may surprise you to note that over the last 15 games Torbert is the second-leading scorer with 10.4 points per game and is averaging 4.9 rebounds a game as well, which also ranks him second.

  Izzo said Torbert has begun to play his game and has not allowed outside interference get him down.

  "I think KT has been under a lot of pressure," Izzo said. "The reason you see players want to do things they're not as comfortable doing is because they're trying to please someone else.

  "I don't think it's yourself…you know what you can do and KT doing a better job of what's he good at and I think that will give him some confidence which will also help his outside shooting."

  Not only has Torbert's offensive progressed, but so has his defensive, rebounding and overall emotional stability and that's something that Izzo has loved to see evolve.

  "He's becoming more of a total player, which has been fun to watch," he said.


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