Stick a fork in these Spartans

BY foxsports • February 3, 2011

Feb. 3, 2011

Losing to a last-place team is bad enough, but here's the really embarrassing part:

When players make turnovers and then stand and watch from the other side of mid-court as another opponent goes in for a dunk or lay-up.

That's when you start wondering whether a team has quit, and that's what people are saying -- and rightfully so -- about Michigan State following Wednesday's 72-52 loss at Iowa.

It's dangerous to write off a group that has made two straight Final Four appearances. Teams like that deserve the benefit of the doubt when they're struggling.

Well, not anymore. This team deserves nothing after its lackluster effort against the last-place Hawkeyes, especially considering it was a game MSU needed so badly to hang onto hopes of a NCAA Tournament bid.

You can stick a fork in the Spartans now.

Coach Tom Izzo called it "the worst performance of a team that I've coached since I've been at Michigan State."

"We are reeling," he added in his post-game news conference.

Michigan State (13-9, 5-5 Big Ten), the preseason No. 2 team in the country, has lost four of its last five to suddenly, shockingly put itself on the NCAA bubble with a little more than five weeks before Selection Sunday.

In those last five games, opponents have shot 53.5 percent against the sluggish Spartans.

This is a team that's been in a funk for quite a while. But based on the track record, there was always a belief that one way or another, Michigan State could figure it out and be at its best again by March.

But this slump has gone on too long to think there aren't some very deep-rooted problems within that locker room.

Since Jan. 8, Michigan State has lost at Penn State, won back-to-back overtime games at home against Wisconsin and Northwestern, lost at Illinois and Purdue, lost at home to Michigan, and defeated Indiana in overtime at home before getting blown out at Iowa.

While Izzo told reporters he and the coaching staff "deserve as much blame as anybody" -- I second the motion -- he also called out the team's lack of senior leadership.

"I'm gonna make some changes probably," Izzo said. "I'm very disappointed with the leadership of this team. I mean (junior Draymond Green) is trying to do it, but you've got to have seniors that do it."

Michigan State has three seniors on its roster -- former walk-on Mike Kebler, and captains Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers.

It's probably safe to assume Izzo wasn't talking about Kebler.

Lucas, who underwent off-season surgery for a ruptured Achilles, appeared to be returning to form after back-to-back gutsy performances against Michigan and Indiana. But he regressed against Iowa, making 5-of-16 shots and somehow finishing with no assists in 30 minutes.

Summers, meanwhile, is a total mystery. He looks disinterested much of the time. He's a prime example of someone who turns the ball over and then doesn't hustle to try to make up for the miscue. He easily gets frustrated, pouts and gives up when things aren't going well for him.

Asked by reporters Wednesday about the team's perceived lack of leadership, Summers said, "I don't even know."

If Lucas and Summers are looking ahead to possible pro careers, as opposed to focusing on finishing their college days as winners, they are making a colossal blunder. Their inconsistency and selfishness -- when in doubt, just jack up a three-pointer -- will do nothing but damage their NBA draft status.

Assuming Izzo goes through with benching someone as he warned, it should be to find a seat for Summers right next to Rip Hamilton.

This is becoming the worst job of coaching by Izzo in his career. It appears his two top veterans, especially Summers, have tuned him out. Four years of rants have gotten old.

In one ear, out the other.

Michigan State has never finished with a losing record in the Big Ten since Izzo took over for Jud Heathcote in 1995-96.

Even back in the so-called "Fizzo" days -- when some fans wanted to run him out of East Lansing during his first couple years -- the Spartans always managed at least a .500 mark in conference games.

But that streak, along with the 13 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, is likely to end.

If this team is going to lose at home to Michigan, barely squeak by Indiana at home and then lose to the lowly Hawkeyes, anything is possible, including no postseason bid at all.

Consider the Spartans' next six games: at No. 19 Wisconsin (Sunday), vs. Penn State, at No. 1 Ohio State, vs. Illinois, at No. 18 Minnesota and vs. No. 11 Purdue.

More than likely, Michigan State is going to have to win the Big Ten tournament to get that NCAA bid.

Wednesday's debacle was the 17th time in his 16 seasons that Izzo has lost by 20 or more points. There were even three by at least 30.

So the Iowa City collapse won't go down as the worst in the record books.

It just seemed that way because Izzo's team quit on him.

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