With a 23-8 regular season record and a 12-6 third place finish in the Big Ten, it's strange to say that this has been a disappointing season for Michigan State mens basketball--but it has been.
Where does one start to explain the nature and full extent of this disappointment? Let's go down the list:
Injuries. Injuries were certainly an issue and not an excuse, no matter what critics may say. Adreian Payne, Keith Appling, Matt Costello, Branden Dawson, and Travis Trice (am I missing anyone?) all missed significant time this season, and mainly when it was the most felt--in the conference season. The constant injury problems made it impossible for MSU to get a rotation going or to develop any chemistry on the floor.
That other school down the road. Michigan won the Big Ten title, and that makes this third place finish even more difficult to swallow, certainly from a fan's perspective. If any other Big Ten team had won the title, it wouldn't be nearly as painful. But not only does it kill me that Michigan won the title, but they swept the regular season series from MSU.
Unfulfilled expectations. This reason for this particular strand of disappointment is tied very closely to the injury situation. Before the bottom fell out health-wise, MSU had an 18-1 record and looked for all the world like the front-runner for Big Ten champion and a national title run. This is what many expected before the season and these looked like very approachable goals.
Occasional lapses in focus and/or energy. This has been a problem all season, dating back to nonconference games against teams such as North Carolina and Cornell. Sometimes, for whatever reason, the Spartans seem to lack energy and focus. They just don't get after it with dogged determination of previous MSU basketball teams. This continued in lackluster performances against Georgetown, Nebraska, and Illinois. I doubt that there is a switch that can be turned on to make these guys play with 100 percent effort every game, but if there is, it needs to be found immediately.
So now the Big Ten tournament has started, and I have somewhat low expectations for MSU. It's not that I don't think the Spartans could have a great conference tournament, and a great NCAA tournament, it's just that the likelihood of this happening seems slim. The flicker of light comes from the fact that the team is finally healthy and at full strength from a personnel standpoint. But I don't know if the team has had enough time to gel as a unit. Chemistry, more than raw talent, is the most important aspect of basketball and I question whether MSU will be able to achieve chemistry in time for a successful postseason run.
One last parting shot. If any coach in America (besides Mike Krzyzewski, perhaps) can get a basketball team rolling in the postseason, it's Tom Izzo. I've learned that one can never count out the Spartans as long as Izzo is at the helm. One dismisses or forgets about Coach Izzo at ones peril. And would there be anything much sweeter than an MSU win in the Big Ten tournament, defeating the likes of Wisconsin and Michigan along the way? Only a national title could be better.