Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Intensity in question for tournament

March 11, 2002
Indiana forward Jared Jeffries shoots over junior forward Al Anagonye in the first half of Friday’s second-round 67-56 loss in the Big Ten Tournament. The Spartans earned a No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament. MSU will play No. 7 seed N.C. State on Friday in Washington, D.C. —

Despite an early exit in the Big Ten Tournament, the MSU men’s basketball team heads into the NCAA Tournament with its finger on its biggest problem - intensity.

The question will be, “Can the Spartans pick up the intensity after losing to Indiana in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament?”

That same question was MSU head coach Tom Izzo’s biggest concern heading into the Big Ten Tournament.

He wasn’t sure how his young team would handle the added pressure of tournament play.

“The intensity level at this time of year is doubled and now teams are playing with their backs against a wall,” Izzo said. “There are going to be seniors playing for the last time. Whether we can match that will be the key to how successful we can be.

“In the last couple years we had a solid group of juniors and seniors who could do that.”

The Spartans lacked that intensity from the first play of the game Friday when Indiana guard Tom Coverdale stole the ball from freshman guard Kelvin Torbert. And they never quite picked up the intensity as they committed 21 turnovers en route to a 67-56 loss, including 12 in the first half.

Sophomore guard Marcus Taylor committed six turnovers and only added two assists.

While the experience and intensity that comes along with an abundance of upperclassmen can’t be duplicated, the Spartan freshmen did get a taste of that intensity Friday - leaving them with the blueprint to correct their mistakes.

That is especially important for the three freshmen, guard Chris Hill, swingman Alan Anderson and Torbert. The three combined for just 17 points on Friday.

Former MSU head coach Jud Heathcote said the Spartan freshmen have gained enough experience during the season to find success in the tournament.

“You’d like to think that the freshmen, that by the time it’s the end of the year, aren’t freshmen anymore, they’re sophomores,” Heathcote said.

Although they had a pitfall in the Big Ten Tournament, Heathcote said the Spartans will be a tough draw in the first or second round because they’ve had a turbulent and injury-infested season.

“I think it will be business at hand and Tom knows how to do that and get the team ready,” Heathcote said. “I would not like to be an opposing team and have to play Michigan State in either the first or second round.

“When it comes tournament time, I think the Big Ten teams have been there. They’ve been in front of hostile crowds, the big arenas and they’re not going to be overwhelmed with everything that goes along with the NCAA Tournament.”

And even though MSU isn’t entering the tournament off a win, it can still feed off the momentum from its five-game winning streak that closed the regular-season.

“This year we’re a pretty good shooting team, pretty good three-point shooting team and a very good free-throw shooting team,” Izzo said. “We’re still proving that with this young team we can still play both styles so it really doesn’t bother me if we hit a pressing team or a half-court team.

“I do think the one thing this team has is that we have some qualities that make you more effective in the tournament.”

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