Publish date:

Tough Times Soft play and a brutal schedule have left Michigan State smarting


After playing lackadaisically to start the season and so
infuriating his coach that he was pulled from the starting
lineup, Michigan State junior forward Alan Anderson finally came
alive last Saturday afternoon, scoring 15 of his 17 points in the
second half to help the Spartans erase a 15-point deficit against
No. 14 Oklahoma and force the game into overtime. "I asked Alan,
'Why the turnaround in the second half?'" said coach Tom Izzo.
"He said, 'I finally got mad.'" Even though the Spartans ended up
losing 80-77 to drop to 3-3, Izzo didn't seem angry afterward.
"There were a lot more positives than negatives in this game," he
said. "During the second half we started to look like the team I
thought we'd be."

That hardly sounded like the same man who five days earlier had
said he'd never be happy with a loss because "our program is
beyond that right now," but that's what playing a brutal
nonconference schedule will do to a coach. In losing to the
Sooners, as well as to Kansas and Duke, the Spartans have
revealed some startling weaknesses as they plunged from No. 5 in
last week's AP poll to No. 21 this week.

Izzo has been searching for the right combination of players and
has been forced to go with a four-guard lineup--featuring Chris
Hill and Kelvin Torbert--because 6'10" forward Erazem Lorbek left
school after just one season and is now playing in Europe. Yet
oddly enough, their biggest need is in the backcourt. Lacking a
true point guard, the Spartans have averaged 16.8 turnovers a
game through Sunday. They also have not displayed the toughness
that has been the hallmark of Izzo's nine-year tenure.

That was glaringly evident during the 72-50 loss to the Blue
Devils in East Lansing on Dec. 3. After watching his team turn
the ball over 17 times and get outscored 20-2 during one stretch
in the first half, Izzo said he was embarrassed and disgusted,
and he even uttered the s word. "We have a soft team," he said.
"It's about time some boys became men." Izzo was talking
primarily about Anderson, who had more turnovers (five) than
points (four) while playing out of position at point guard, and
6'10" sophomore center Paul Davis, who through Sunday was
shooting just 43.3% from the floor while averaging 12.7 points
and 7.2 rebounds a game.

Izzo threatened to pull Davis from the starting lineup against
Oklahoma but didn't, and Davis responded with his best outing of
the season, scoring 17 points that included a three-point play
with 6.9 seconds remaining to force the OT. "I needed a game like
this," Davis said. "Now I've got to keep it up."

Michigan State will need an extra effort from all its players
this Saturday, when it's scheduled to face No. 8 Kentucky at
Detroit's Ford Field in a game that is expected to draw 75,000
fans, a world record for attendance at a basketball game. But
even if the Spartans were to lose again, Izzo will make no
apologies for his oppressive schedule. "We could have played
three cupcakes and been 6-0 right now, but that's not what I
wanted to do," said the coach after the Oklahoma loss. "This is
going to pay dividends in the long run."

COLOR PHOTO: AL GOLDIS/AP Torbert and the Spartans stumbled against Duke, causing Izzo(with Hill, inset) to question his team's guts.