Monday, September 20, 2021

Women could teach men a thing or two

February 8, 2011
Junior forward Lykendra Johnson drives past Purdue forward Drey Mingo Sunday at Breslin Center. Johnson contributed 13 points and eight rebounds to the Spartans' 76-57 victory over the Boilermakers. Matt Radick/The State News
Junior forward Lykendra Johnson drives past Purdue forward Drey Mingo Sunday at Breslin Center. Johnson contributed 13 points and eight rebounds to the Spartans' 76-57 victory over the Boilermakers. Matt Radick/The State News —
Photo by Matt Radick | and Matt Radick The State News

The MSU men’s basketball team was supposed to be the No. 2 team in the country and favorites to cut down the nets in April.

It’s shocking how much things can change in little more than two months.

From booking a trip to Houston to watch the Spartans make a third-straight appearance in the Final Four, they now are looking at seats for the NIT.

In the past six games, the Spartans are 1-5 and coming off of back-to-back 20-plus point losses ­— one of which was to Iowa, the worst team in the Big Ten.

MSU head coach Tom Izzo repeatedly has said his team is having outstanding practices, but still losing. That’s not a good sign.

Meanwhile, and I’ve said it before, the MSU women’s team continues to streak toward a Big Ten championship.

The Spartans have extended their record to 20-3, with losses to No. 1 Baylor, and Big Ten road losses to Iowa and Ohio State — the five-time reigning Big Ten champs.

Maybe you neglected to look at what Izzo had to say earlier this season — which I detailed in a column.

He said his team’s struggles have allowed the women’s team to carry the programs flag.

Sure the past two years, the men have marched into April, but Merchant and her teams vigorously took notes on how to represent MSU.

Maybe after taking all those notes, the women’s team really is ready to step up and carry the flag this year.

Now, it’s possible the women actually can teach the men some valuable lessons.

Let’s look at some of the main issues with the guys this year and see if the ladies can help.

Senior leadership with seniors Kalisha Keane, Brittney Thomas and Cetera Washington
Both Merchant and Izzo have said numerous times this season that, “As your seniors go, your team goes.”

For Merchant, she was praising the class of 2011. Clearly, it’s paying off and the women’s team thrives because of its leaders.

After any foul call, the seniors yank everyone into a huddle, talk, calm each other down and — if necessary — call a player out to step up.

Being vocal is what Keane, Washington and Thomas can teach the men’s leaders, especially senior guards Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers.

Summers has disappeared as of late, but Lucas has been an outstanding scorer. However, it takes more than points to be a leader.

The session would be dedicated to the women teach the men how to lead by more than just an example.

Energy and excitement with each member of the women’s team
What makes college sports so special? Isn’t part of it the purity of the sport? Players aren’t competing for their next big contract. They’re playing because they truly love the game.

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The women’s team demonstrates that to the fullest. Even in a 30-point blowout when all of the reserves are in, the women on the bench scream when their teammate makes a play.

When junior forward Lykendra Johnson gets fouled and makes a layup, she erupts as if she just won the lottery.

Where is that with the men’s team? That’s why all of the guys on the team are required to attend this session.

The men used to have this. Watch the highlight video from last season and it might give you chills when Summers throws down a dunk and nearly is bowled over by his teammates.

Now, Izzo is the only one who shows emotion, and he’s on the sideline. After each call he makes one of his many faces and at times even drops to the ground in frustration.

We know the men’s team loves the game, but maybe the women can show them it’s OK to smile after a good play and it’s OK to celebrate a little as you run back on defense.

Defense with Washington and Thomas
Again the whole men’s team will be required to come to this class, but junior forward Delvon Roe and freshman guard Keith Appling can sit in the back of the classroom.

This is the engine that makes the women’s basketball team run. Washington and Thomas are built on defense and driven with defense-first mindsets.

They take it personally if an opposing player is able to score on them. When the duo steps onto the court it’s like Merchant is releasing the dogs on the opposing team.

The men’s team has one player like that, Roe, who asks to cover the best player on the opposing team.

“Nobody likes to play lockdown defense,” Izzo said about his team. “You’d be considered a nerd if you did that.”

Merchant will release “the dogs” on the men’s team and they quickly can shed that “nerd” mindset.

Entering Beast Mode with Johnson
After making a switch from small forward to center, Johnson has used a combination of her speed and power to become one of the fiercest competitors in the Big Ten.

She is a junior captain, has the ability to shoot a 3-pointer and is great with the media. Sound familiar?

This class is meant for junior forward Draymond Green, who has all the tools to enter what I call, Beast Mode.

Ripping down rebounds and forcing up putbacks, the same way he did in the final seconds against Northwestern. However, Green sometimes can be soft and not attack the boards like he should. That’s where Johnson can tune him up.

Johnson had 17 rebounds and 17 points at Michigan, huge numbers in a hostile environment in their biggest rivalry game. But my highlight was when she set a pick that caused a U-M player to fall to the ground as if she had just been hit by a truck. That’s beast mode.

This isn’t a shot at the men’s basketball team. Even Izzo is admiring Merchant at this point in the season.

“She’s done, I think, an incredible job,” he said in January. “Maybe as good as anybody’s done around here.”

The women strangely have all of the tools that the men seemingly have misplaced this year, but if the guys can shape themselves to become more like Merchant’s team they truly can turn it around.

And if not, at least we’re a football school.

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