Tom Izzo’s version of the MSU men’s basketball program was built on defense.
After back-to-back 20-point losses and five losses in six games, the defense is the biggest culprit. In the last six games, opponents are shooting 54.3 percent from the field.
But Izzo blames himself for the defensive fall off.
“What I got caught doing is, ‘Why aren’t we shooting better? Why aren’t we shooting free throws better? Why are we turning it over more?’” Izzo said Monday. “Instead of just saying, ‘You know what? We’ve got to defend and rebound and work our way through it.’”
In the Dec. 22, 2010, loss to now-No. 3 Texas, the Longhorns shot just 41 percent from the field. In Sunday’s loss to No. 19 Wisconsin, the Badgers shot 59 percent.
In order for the defense to turn around, players need to take pride in defense like former players under Izzo did, he said.
“There’s a Travis Walton that comes around once every 20 years. It’s like Magic Johnson (or Mateen) Cleaves,” Izzo said. “Raymar Morgan did it. But nobody likes to play lockdown defense. You’d be considered a nerd if you did that.”
For all his offensive struggles, Izzo said dismissed junior guard Korie Lucious was one of the team’s best perimeter defenders. Pair that with the offseason loss of guard Chris Allen and Izzo needs guards to play simply for defense, such as senior Mike Kebler.
“Chris Allen, as with Morris (Peterson), those guys went from not guarding (well) to being able to guard damn well, and I think that’s the problem right now,” Izzo said. “Believe it or not, I was excited Kebler played better defensively because I’m going to play him more.”
Junior forward Delvon Roe, who Izzo said should be up for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year after the Jan. 22 loss to Purdue, also has struggled defensively. Roe always has had to deal with knee injuries that have plagued his career.
Although the knees don’t bother him as much as they have in the past, they still are affecting Roe.
“The knee was doing great, and after Christmas it was not quite as great,” Izzo said. “It’s been a problem for him in a different way. The day after a game he never practices. If we go two or three in a row, he doesn’t practice.”
Since the dismissal of Lucious, junior guard Austin Thornton has seen an increase in playing time. But being known as a shooter, Thornton’s offense hasn’t picked up. He played 13 minutes against Wisconsin and scored four points — all on free throws.
“If you watch him in practice, he’s knocking down shots,” Izzo said. “Sometimes, it’s harder on the guys that do care a lot. Austin’s one of those guys. If you don’t care a lot, it is what it is, and you probably don’t put as much pressure on yourself.
“I think Austin shoots every shot to go in, and that’s a tribute to who he is and how bad he wants it. But, it’s also hurt him a little bit.”
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