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February 11, 2010EAST LANSING - Just nine days ago, the Spartans were 9-0 in the league. Tom Izzo had spent weeks warning fans, media, and his own team, that the second half of the Big Ten season would tell a much different story. Those penciling in Michigan State for their next Final Four were told to brace themselves for a difficult February.
Three games later, and three consecutive losses later - to Wisconsin, Illinois, and Purdue - Tom Izzo isn't saying I told you so. He's saying the same things he's been saying since media day back on October 14. His concerns with this team were and are leadership, chemistry and distractions.
"As I assess the three games," Izzo said after Thursday's practice, "I think two of those teams played exceptionally well against us. I thought Purdue played well, but I didn't think they played nearly as well as Wisconsin or Illinois did against us.
"You know, we lost three games. And it was a shame that it was one right after another, and the last one was really a shame because it was a home game."
Surprising to some, the Spartans dropped that home game to Purdue with Durrell Summers watching from the bench the entire second half. Representative of Michigan State's lingering problems with focus, effort, and transition defense, Summers was being sent a message. One that - if Thursday's practice can be used as any sort of measure - was wholeheartedly received.
"Well yeah, (it was a message)," Izzo agreed. "It might have been good for us for a game (to play Durrell). And a lot of people can say 'well, you didn't give yourself a fair chance'.
"I think it gave us a fair chance for a season. And I owe the program something, and I owe Durrell something for his future. The consistency that a couple of the guys are playing with is just not the way the game's got to be played.
"It wouldn't take a brain surgeon to see why I had (distractions) listed as one of number one issues at the beginning of the year. When some people think that things just happen in one game, a coach can change his mind or do some things, that's never the case.
"From the beginning of the year I talk about the same issue that I still talk about - our distractions, our leadership, our chemistry."
So, just two nights after scoring two points in just 16 minutes - and one day after having a long meeting with his coach - Summers was doing things in practice that Izzo said he'd 'never seen him do before'.
Now Izzo is just hoping that the things he saw from Summers on Thursday, combined with the steadily improving health of Kalin Lucas, can fuel the Spartans as they try to end their three-game skid on Saturday against Penn State.
Common sense would tell you that State College is exactly where an ailing team would look for a bounce-back victory - with the Nittany Lions yet to win a Big Ten game. But unfortunately for the Spartans, they are once again heading into a situation where an opponent and their fans are funneling a season's worth of frustration into their game against the green and white.
Penn State is expecting their biggest crowd of the year, has a white-out planned for the nationally televised game, and has already distributed over 12,000 tickets. They're even handing out Talor Battle figurines at the door - while supplies last.
"Penn State scares me," Izzo said. "Not because it'd be a big upset and this and that, they scare me because every game they've played but two have gone down to the wire. Coulda, shoulda won some of them.
"And you know, we're a little beaten up right now. So you don't have as many friends and fans right now, not as many people calling. So that's when you got to suck it up. And you know, in some ways, it's not always bad. Because this is why teams grow at the end of the year sometimes. Because you have to deal with 'It's you against the world', 'It's us against the world'."
VIDEO: Izzo embraces the 'us against the world' mentality