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March 07, 2010

A blowout, duh

Sorry to disappoint you. There just really wasn't much of anything juicy about the "fun" Tom Izzo heaped on his team between Penn State and Michigan -- a victory that yielded what he called the "rewarding-est" of his six Big Ten titles.

    Basically, the players knew practice was going to be intense or else. So they chose intense. Izzo was happy with the practices and he liked what he saw from his team before the game.
    “I said I was gonna be checking the warmups and the locker room and all those things," Izzo said. "Because I vowed to you guys we’re gonna play the right way, everybody’s gonna make sure they’re ready to go. When the game started, Travis Walton, we’re walking out of the locker room as we’re going out to the start of the game and he said, ‘Coach, they’re ready.’ Last time I heard someone say that to me was when we beat Louisville, so I felt good about that.”
    As it turns out, the Penn State game was the perfect way for Izzo to grab hold of his team before Michigan (no big surprise and by midway through the first half, I was kicking myself for picking a six-point MSU win. I forgot, Michigan is pretty bad. In Breslin. On senior day. A banner on the line. Drew Sharp mocked that pick early in the game and when it was 25-8, turned to me and said: "Coward." Can't disagree). The players responded immediately and Izzo pulled out a few surprises.
    Such as, film of the 114-63 win over U-M in 2000.
    "And you’d say ‘Why did you do that?’" Izzo said. "It wasn’t because of the score, it wasn’t because of anything but the energy. The energy, the pats on the back, the hugs, the touchy feely stuff that usually is what championship teams have. And I said at 7:30 (Friday) morning, ‘We’re gonna play harder, I’m gonna find someone that plays harder and smarter.’
    "You know it’s not that we don’t play hard all the time, but I think we lose concentration once in a while. And I think we get discouraged if our offense isn’t going right. That causes our defense to struggle and then it causes our offense to struggle more.”
    Everything was better Sunday. Kalin Lucas looked like a point guard again. Raymar Morgan was the best player on the basketball court. Chris Allen's defense on Manny Harris was "Charlie Bell-like, Mateen Cleaves-like," Izzo said (and those two were behind the bench to see it). Isaiah Dahlman had two fast-break dunks! The overall team defense was terrific, and that's the main thing MSU can take from this game. The senior day/rivalry/home crowd emotion won't transfer, but that defense is the ticket, just as it was a year ago.
    Quick notes:
    * Delvon Roe's first half was his best ball in a long time, but he played just three minutes in the second. His right knee tightened up on him during the break, which he said has been a problem. Roe said he may start riding a bike during halftime to keep the knee loose. He did say it felt "normal" during the first half.
    Also, Izzo revealed that Lucas missed some practice time before the game with a foot infection.
    * Much was made after the game of a John Beilein quote about MSU's defense. Here's the quote in full:
    "They are super physical, probably the most physical team we play and that's, it's a concern of mine two ways. Number one, we have to get more physical and number two, I must be teaching some different things in basketball defense because we don't grab people a lot, not that they were grabbing, but there's a lot of physical play that goes on and I wish it could be called tighter at times but that's the way it's done. And it was called tight at the beginning."
    At his postgame presser, Izzo was told of the "grabbing" part of the quote and took some long pauses as he chose his words. He complimented Beilein, talked about the rugged play during last year's NCAA run and said: "I don’t think we’re as physical or tough a team as we’ve been, so maybe it’s a good thing that he wasn’t here back in 2000 or 1999 and had Cleaves biting you and carrying you around. ... But no comment on that, I do think it’s been a disappointing part for him because I think he is a very good coach and they’ve lost a couple tough games, but he’ll have that program going, I really do believe that."
    I just don't see this as a big deal. Beilein mostly complimented MSU, and that quote can be taken more as a jab at the officials at MSU. And this was a physical game. I mean, did you see Morgan toss Zack Novak to the ground? You could probably hear that head thump from the upper deck.
    But it will be interesting to see if much is made of it.
    Oh for the days of Scott Skiles telling Antoine Joubert to drop 20 pounds.   

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Joe Rexrode
MSU Sports Reporter
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