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December 22, 2010

Some wild guesses...

...on comments that have been left here about MSU's mightily struggling men's basketball team (haven't looked, I swear) in the past few hours: This team will be lucky to make the NCAA Tournament. This team will be lucky to finish in the upper division of the Big Ten. The game has passed Izzo by. Izzo's recruiting has fallen off. (Fill in name) should never see the floor again. (Fill in name) should transfer. (Fill in name) must be on drugs.

    OK, enough making fun of you, let's get to the team. It isn't very good right now. Aren't you glad you clicked here so I could bring that level of hard-hitting analysis to your computer screen? You're lucky this stuff is still free.

    Can it be good? Can it be anywhere near as good as short-sighted writers who picked it to win the whole thing thought just six weeks ago? Yes, for sure. And maybe, I guess (because there's no turning back at this point anyway, and because Izzo teams have made mind-boggling transformations in the past).

    Izzo was in full-blown non-panic mode tonight. He liked how his team rebounded against a team he said was as physical as Gene Keady's old Purdue teams (49-42 MSU edge). The Spartans defended OK against a very talented bunch, with Texas shooting 41.3 percent despite a handful of run-out dunks on more brutal MSU turnovers (10 in the second half after six in the first). And MSU got shots against a long, quick, active team that guards well.

    The shots just didn't fall, and that includes several layups.

    "When you don't hit shots," Izzo said, "a lot of things look worse than they are."

    MSU shot 29 percent. Its previous low was 38.9 percent against Syracuse. Other than that, 40 percent or above in every game and 47.4 percent overall. MSU made three 3-pointers. The previous season low was six. No one could hit a shot. And the turnovers stymied any chance at a comeback when MSU got a 16-point lead down to nine a few times.

    Korie Lucious said his right ankle was in pain, and it showed. Keith Appling said he "kind of dozed" a few times because of a shot to the head he took Saturday. It was not a concussion, but Appling didn't practice until Tuesday.

    Those are all the excuses. It was a bad night for MSU against a good team. But the fact remains, this team was rested coming into this game and still played poorly. Played poorly and got handled, losing at home to a nonleague foe for the first time since Duke (silver unis!) in 2003. And it seems to be plugging a hole here, finding another leak there. Draymond Green was asked if MSU has an identity yet.

    “We have to find one,” he said.
    Are you surprised to say that after 12 games?
    “Yes, but it’s reality.”
    Where do you start?
    “Start to get back in here on the 26th and get back to the basics. Find what we’re good at and execute what we’re good at. And things we’re not so good at, get better.”

    There were some positives. Kalin Lucas looked like Lucas when he split two defenders in the first half and finished lefty at the rim. He looked tired and unable to accelerate late, but as he said afterward: "It's coming back. It's coming back."

    Adreian Payne (starting in part because Garrick Sherman was late to a meeting) took a small step forward. Although Roe couldn't buy a bunny, he was active and aggressive. Sherman had some good moments. And ... OK, that's about it.

    "We’ve been 8-4 before, we’ve been 9-4, I'm not trying to make light of it, I'm not trying to make it worse than it is," Izzo said. "If I keep scheduling this way, we're gonna have some losses. ... I’m disappointed. But I've been here before so I know what to do over Christmas. It’s a lot harder work than shopping."

    And panicking and complaining. This might just be the latest MSU version of teams in 1990-91, 2003-04 and 2005-06 that entered the season with mammoth expectations and never quite put things together. But I'm not yet convinced that's the case. If you believe enough evidence exists to shovel dirt on this season, comment away. If not, comment away. Oh, and don't forget to join the live chat at 10 a.m. Thursday.

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Joe Rexrode
MSU Sports Reporter
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