Even when things were going well for Michigan State’s basketball team there were major pits and pratfalls that threatened to sink the entire ship.
Magically, the blemishes were covered with makeup or pixie dust. Or often it was a senior giving a fire and brimstone speech during half time of a game or following a discouraging practice. Instead of sinking into a prolonged slump, MSU players were reminded of what it takes to be a Spartan.
Outsiders would venture into their dressing room or practice facility and notice paint peeling from the walls because Mateen Cleaves, Andre Hutson or Gary Harris gave a coming to Jesus speech filled with passion and profanity.
Everybody stepped up and filled holes because they didn’t want to be the one who let a prideful and championship caliber program fall by the wayside.
Coach Tom Izzo often got full credit for figuring out the problems and fixing them. But in actuality it was normally level headed players who went off the deep end who figured it out and fixed it because they knew a different voice was needed.
Players believed because they were filled with experiences of hotly contested workouts from May, June and August when the base of Spartan mentality was built. They believed because to be a Spartan basketball player means to overachieve and reach heights beyond their capability.
My guess is that voice is missing on the 2020-2021 MSU basketball roster. And that base of strong and aggressive off-season workouts is missing too. Now what you are left with is a team that is a little bit softer than usual and a coach in Izzo who is reluctant to put on the boxing gloves for fear of really losing this fragile team.
Yes, we know the team is not getting quality point guard play. Yes, we know the team cannot score. Most disturbing though is this team cannot defend the interior. It does not block out and muscle people out the paint. MSU could always count on doing the little things when the big picture did not look so rosy.
And you get outsiders predicting that the Spartan run is over forever, the same as they have predicted before when Izzo didn’t have things humming the way he wanted or had a public battle with a star player.
Are they saying the same thing at Duke (9-8) or Kentucky (7-13)? These are blue bloods that, like the Spartans, may not make the NCAA tournament. Are they done for eternity?
How many times has Izzo been told he has forever lost his team and he gets it back before the ink is dry?
Shit happens. You can’t explain it. You can’t predict when it will happen. You cannot predict how long it will last.
But the Spartan program is strong enough to overcome what ails it. This program shall rise again. It might not be this year. It might not be next season.
At some point the Spartans will have a brutal off season filled with shoulder pads and black eyes under their belt and they will have a senior or junior stand before the team who is unafraid to bruise egos and hurt feelings tell his followers what Spartan basketball is all about.
That is when this team shall rise again.
And when that all happens Izzo will rediscover the balance of being father figure and tough guy as he leads his team to another Big Ten championship or Final Four appearance.Find Terry Foster Podcast here: