COLUMBUS OH - FEBRUARY 15: Mike Kebler #20 and Kalin Lucas #1 both of the Michigan State Spartans celebrate after a basket during the first half against the Ohio State Buckeyes on February 15 2011 at Value City Arena in Columbus Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Tom Izzo wants to inspire confidence in his underachieving Michigan State bunch. That's why he keeps on repeating things like "we ain't dead yet" and "we're gonna make a run at it." But seriously, who is he really preaching to? Mike Kebler? Austin Thornton? Because from our vantage point this is a very, very dead team.
Even Durrell Summers, one of Izzo's best players, looks to have both mentally and physically checked out. I couldn't help but think of Connecticut's Jerome Dyson and his hilariously bad body language while watching Summers sulk on the bench last night. He no longer deserves court time because of how bad he's been, and that concept is quite unreal if you look at his career numbers. With all of the turmoil that has plagued this school in the past year, Summers' untimely disappearing act might just be the last straw.
In the meantime, the Spartans have become a predictable 2-man offense with Kalin Lucas and Draymond Green running screens up top. Issues arise here because Lucas consistently settles for long jumpers from just inside the three-point line, despite being a moderate shooter from that range. Defenses are baiting him into it, and he's jacking up the lowest percentage shot on the floor at will about a half-dozen times per night. When MSU's offense is struggling to get the ball inside, these Lucas bricks are sometimes the best looks they end up getting.
Nobody else seems capable of stepping up and making shots on a consistent basis, which is something Izzo relied heavily upon with guys like Summers, and *gasp* Korie Lucious, and even *gasp* Chris Allen. And while there might be some hope with Derrick Nix, who impressed in the first half last night, we're still talking about a guy who's more likely to do serious damage at an all-you-can-eat buffet than he would in the post for 30 minutes vs. elite competition. You can't just boot two of your top six players off your roster and expect to patch up the holes as you go along. Doesn't work that way.
And that's just the play on the court. When it comes down to the numbers, the big boy measuring sticks if you will, it's probably generous to say the Spartans are hanging by a mere thread. Remember, this is a 14-11 team we're talking about. They are sub .500 (6-7) in Big Ten play, and still have to face Illinois, Minnesota, Purdue, Iowa and Michigan. All of those teams except the Gophers have already beaten MSU once this season. Is the law of averages supposed to kick in four more times on State's behalf? Does anybody, with a straight face mind you, really believe the Spartans can win out?
After the seeds were announced on Selection Sunday last year, The Dagger's Jeff Eisenberg highlighted four of the biggest snubs:
1. Illinois (19-14, 10-8, RPI: 73): Five marquee wins over the likes of Vanderbilt, Clemson, Michigan State and Wisconsin (twice) were apparently not enough to outweigh the Illini's bloated RPI and poor finish to the regular season. Illinois did finish a game ahead of conference rival Minnesota in the Big Ten standings, but it lost to the Gophers in the regular season and bowed out of the conference tournament a round earlier as well.
2. Virginia Tech (23-7, 10-6, RPI: 56): Despite defeating both Georgia Tech and Wake Forest and finishing above both of them in the ACC standings, the Hokies did not make the field and the Yellow Jackets and Demon Deacons did. The reason is Virginia Tech's pitiful non-league strength of schedule, which was among the worst in the nation. Then on top of that, the Hokies lost in the first round of the ACC tournament to a weak Miami team.
3. Mississippi State (23-10, 9-7, RPI: 55): The Bulldogs certainly looked the part of an NCAA tournament team in an overtime loss to Kentucky on Sunday afternoon, but their profile didn't stand up well to close inspection. Although defeating Florida and Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament helped Mississippi State's case, the Bulldogs still only had two top-50 RPI victories all season and also suffered bad losses to Auburn, Rider and Western Kentucky.
4.Seton Hall (19-12, 9-9, RPI: 61): Although Seton Hall didn't have a bad loss all season, the Pirates still had way too many of them. Victories over Pittsburgh, Louisville and Cornell helped their cause, but a neutral-court loss against fellow bubble team Virginia Tech without Hokies star Malcolm Delaney weighed down their profile like an anchor.
The important team of note is Illinois, who went 10-8 in the Big Ten, beat four really good schools (and Wisconsin twice), and managed to post 19 wins. Their stumbling block came down to poor play late in the season and an admittedly bad RPI of 73. Noted.
So even with four more teams in the field offering a slightly higher chance at a bid, the Spartans would need to go 4-1 down the stretch to even match Illinois' 10-8 record, which appears to be the benchmark. Their current RPI sits at 49, a number that is very much borderline for a school devoid of a standout resume. Izzo's crew can only attest to three quality wins at the moment too, and lest we forget: They are an abysmal 1-7 on the road. I'm not even sure there is a number that can make Michigan State look like a tournament caliber team right now. Every valid measurement under the sun disagrees with them.
Look, the Spartans are currently on a 30-day nosedive. Players are quitting on the team. Worst of all, their resume is in complete shambles and could go ignored by the committee. Izzo has a strange history of underwhelming lately in Big Ten Tournaments (hasn't won since 2000), and considering the circumstances, that might be the most damning evidence of all.
Don't believe what you've heard, Michigan State is absolutely dead. Durrell Summers pulled the plug last night. I saw it happen.