I held off posting these comments last night, but have decided they’re worth sharing.
I’m concerned about Izzo’s approach to this team at the moment. Consider the following from last night’s broadcast:
Musberger and Lavin indicated Izzo’s been praising the team’s play publicly but chastising them privately.
Erin Andrews reported Izzo was not at all pleased with MSU’s play in the first half, despite the fact they were down by just 4 having gotten only 2 total points from their top two scorers.
Izzo could be seen ripping Naymick–a senior who plays defense as well as any Spartan big man has in the Izzo era–at point-blank range for a perceived defensive lapse late in the game (not jumping out on one of Wisconsin’s many slow, short-haired, white guys who make a 3-pointer once a game to drive the opponent crazy). Izzo berated him to the point Naymick looked like he wanted to go hide in the locker room.
Izzo also appeared to be focusing on several offensive miscues by Lucas, despite the fact Lucas continues to be the only MSU player with the confidence to attack defenses and create scoring opportunities. (This one concerns me a little less than the Naymick thing, as Izzo may have just been providing instruction, rather than criticizing Lucas’ play.)
Izzo continues to behave as if this team’s problem is “toughness.” But it’s not. Last night, MSU played very good, team defense for 30+ minutes. They scrapped for rebounds all night. And they didn’t make careless errors with the ball on offense.
The current problem with this team is they can’t consistently create and convert quality shots against good defenses. If you want to chalk up the inability to make mid-range jumpers or contested 3-pointers consistently as a lack of mental toughness, fine. But in my book, Izzo needs to scale back the lambasting of the team for every defensive error or turnover and focus a little more energy on finding new ways to score and boosting the team’s confidence to attack the basket.
Now I understand this is the way Izzo operates and is largely responsible for the rise of Spartan basketball to the level of excellency that makes this season seem like such a disappointment, despite the team’s 22-6 record. I’ve been told by first-hand witnesses that Izzo’s language in practice (and no doubt during games) would make a sailor blush and doesn’t exactly come from the Stuart Smalley coaching manual for affirming your players’ self-wroth.
That is what it is, and I don’t expect–and, as an MSU fan, wouldn’t want–Izzo to change his style. But I do think he needs to recognize this team is playing pretty darn hard and actually pretty darn smart, too.
Michigan State came out last night playing confidently and aggressively on offense, jumping out to a 16-11 lead–much as they did in the game vs. IU. A little more focus on sustaining that confidence throughout the game in hostile environments, rather than focusing on the relatively minor flaws in MSU’s defense, might go a long way to getting this team ready for postseason play.
Please don’t lump me in the message board trolls calling for Izzo to be fired if he doesn’t turn the team around. I wouldn’t trade Izzo for any coach in the country, and I can only hope he stays on the Spartan sidelines for many years to come. But I do think his approach may need to be adjusted slightly to get the most out of this particular group of players.
As a final note, the reason I didn’t go into this rant last night, was one encouraging report late in the game: Erin Andrews indicated Izzo’s comments in one of the second-half timeouts were to the effect that he didn’t want anyone passing up an open shot. So Izzo may realize offensive confidence is a key for this team at this moment.
It would not, of course, be surprising if a future hall of fame coach arrived at a key conclusion before a schmuck with a blog did . . .