If 5-7 Michigan State still has a shot at saving a once
promising season, it starts this week with home games against Penn
State and Michigan.

Janna Hutz
Rebounding — usually a strength for Michigan State — has been a weakness this season, as seen in the collision by Shannon Brown (left) and Paul Davis. (AP PHOTO)

That means that the Spartans, much like Indiana last Sunday,
will be desperate for a win against the Wolverines.

“It’s kind of a big week for us,” Michigan
State coach Tom Izzo said.

One problem for Michigan State so far has been a lack of
toughness. After a 12-point win over Bucknell in late November,
Izzo called his team soft. He complained that, rather than being
physical, his players looked afraid of getting hurt inside.

While he’s recently seen flashes of better offensive play,
Izzo still isn’t pleased. The Spartans have played
swiss-cheese defense in dropping three of their last four games.
The team that was No. 3 in the country before it played a game now
sits at the bottom of the Big Ten standings 12 games into its

“We (have) had our moments when we showed up, but
we’ve had our moments when our defense let us down
again,” Izzo said.

One reason for Michigan State’s lack of physicality this
season is work ethic. Since the team lost Jason Richardson and Zach
Randolph to the NBA two years ago, Izzo feels that he hasn’t
had the leaders around to teach the younger guys how to prepare and

“I thought what we had going here for three, four years
was that we had seniors that were passing (the work ethic) on
down,” Izzo said. “It just seems like once you lose
those leaders, you’ve almost got to start from scratch again.
And I think that’s something that I didn’t do a good
job of looking at.”

After the contests in East Lansing this week, the Spartans will
warm up the bus again for three games out of town. Given that they
have yet to win a road game, holding court at home means that much

Michigan coach Tommy Amaker hasn’t had to call out his
team’s toughness this year. In fact, he’s been pleased
with it, particularly on defense.

But the Wolverines have been inconsistent, which Amaker sees as
a byproduct of their youth and inexperience. Michigan has 10
underclassmen on its roster.

Michigan didn’t play in East Lansing last season, so
senior Bernard Robinson is the only Wolverine who has competed in a
Michigan-Michigan State game on the road.

“I think our kids feel that we can play with a lot of
people,” Amaker said. “And I think that we’ve
shown that. I think that we’ll be confident.”

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