Following his team’s 79-70 loss to the Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor last Sunday, Michigan State head basketball coach Tom Izzo entered into the press room of the Crisler Center for his post game press conference, grabbed hold of the podium a little too hard, and knocked a slew of reporter’s recorders off its ledge.
“Some of these just got a messed up,” Izzo grumbled as he picked up the recorders and rearranged them on the podium.
This is the kind of year it’s been for Izzo and his No. 18 Michigan State Spartans (22-6, 11-4 Big Ten).
For the past three months, whenever it seemed the Spartans were finally getting healthy, another player would come tumbling down with injury, forcing Izzo to constantly reconstruct or rearrange his lineup.
Only two players have been able to suit up in every game this season for the Spartans (Denzel Valentine and Gavin Schilling), as Izzo has been forced to use a mind-boggling 14 different starting lineups over the course of his team’s first 28 games.
And after starting the season off with a school best record of 18-1, the injuries seemingly finally caught up with the Spartans, as they have now gone just 4-5 in their last nine ball games.
But on Thursday, as Branden Dawson made his return to practice for the first time in what’s seemed like ages, the MSU Basketball team had a full squad in practice and is expected to have one on Saturday against Illinois for the first game since they played at Indiana on Jan. 4.
“I feel good,” Dawson said after his first practice since breaking his hand five weeks ago. “Today was my first day really getting down with the team.”
“Coach told me, you know it’s going to take some time for the offense to come, but he just told me to go out there, play hard and play defense.”
And as Dawson is set to make his return on Saturday, the MSU Basketball team now moves into a stage of putting the injuries behind them and working towards coming together as a team in what little time they have left this season to achieve their goals. But to do this, Izzo says it all starts with cohesiveness of the Spartans on both ends of the floor.
“If I had to look at what we have to improve the most on, playing together would be and you think of that offensively, but defensively we have not been as good,” Izzo said. “I think part of that reason is that we just keep changing those lineups. The hardest thing has been our ball screen defense and I don’t think that has been very good. I think that is in part because we are trying to adjust to different players and people.”
Nevertheless, there’s still something to be said about the toughness of this MSU Basketball team. To have gone through all the adversity they’ve been forced to go through this season and to handle it the way they have without completely dropping off the face of college basketball, is an accomplishment in itself.
“Yeah, it’s been an incredible couple of months,” Izzo said. “But there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s move forward now.”
And while this past weekend’s loss to Michigan may have robbed Michigan State’s chances of taking the Big Ten regular season title, there’s plenty left to play for as they finish up the regular season and head into post season play, and that’s just what this Michigan State basketball team is focused upon now, as they leave the injuries in the past.
“I think the more I talked about (injuries), I was not trying to make excuses,” Izzo said. “I’m trying to deal with reality myself because I’ve never been through it. Now we’re just moving forward. We’re not going to talk about the injuries.”
However, to do that, and to move forward, it certainly will be tough if they don’t start coming together as a team and start doing it ASAP.
“The main thing is trying to get everybody back together and the chemistry back,” MSU big man Adreian Payne said, who missed his own month’s worth of games. “We had so many adjustments throughout the season and we’re finally back together so we can start looking forward to getting back on a roll and getting back on track.”
And if it hasn’t occurred as to how fast this season has flown by, Saturday’s game against Illinois will be taking place on the first day of the month of March, the time of year Izzo has made his namesake throughout his career.
It’s amazing how Izzo manages to keep a smile on his face throughout this whole ordeal though, the very same guy who most recently kept the smile on to bust out the dance moves in an advertisement for Werner Ladders.
“We will get back guys. Stick with us. We’ll take you somewhere nice in March,” Izzo jokes to the media as he rises from his round tale discussion on Thursday, making light of the everlasting polar vortex and its presence in Mid-Michigan this winter.
“I see it, if we get everybody back playing somewhat like they were,” Izzo says. “I think this team will make serious noise here in the next three weeks.”
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