Smile Politely

Illinois bad, MSU worse, Izzo terrible

It’s mind-boggling that Tom Izzo has six Final Fours on his résumé.

As the faulty Assembly Hall clock ran down Tuesday night, Izzo steered three of the worst possible paths to victory.

With the game tied at 40, Izzo used a timeout to draw up a play for …. nobody! Travis Trice eventually heaved an off-balance three with (intriguingly) no Spartans in rebound territory. I know what you’re thinking. “Who is Travis Trice?”

True, Izzo’s options were limited because B1G MVP-contender Draymond Green had already left the game with four fouls, one broken sprained knee and one vendetta. Also, Izzo’s two best guards transferred to Iowa State.*  Still, with the game tied, you’d want to get the ball inside. Even Derrick Nix can hit half of his free throws.

This strategy wouldn’t work if Illinois were ahead by a bucket, because Derrick Nix can hit only half of his free throws. Keep that in mind for Izzo’s third lapse.

After the Trice miss, Keith Appling fired two errant shots. Neither of Appling’s attempts seemed the product of planned screens and passes. “Haphazard” would describe them. “Stupid” is also apt, if vulgar.

After failing to get a decent look at the basket three times Izzo adopted Plan C: Feed Nix in the middle. By this time, Illinois led by two. Nix made his statistically predictable single free-throw. And so the Spartans lost.

Really, how could a coach with six Final Fours fail to get a better look at the basket, given so many chances?

Brandon Paul’s clutch burned out at the end. BP3 missed the front end of 1-and-1 twice in the last thirty seconds, and Izzo failed to make Illinois pay.

On the other hand, the first 38 minutes of Sparta renewed my appreciation for Tom Izzo. His team rebounds better than anyone. His team sprints from opponents made baskets to create passing lanes for fast breaks. Where most teams achieve outlet passes only from defensive stops, the Spartans create them from deadball.

Vultures circled Bruce Weber’s flagging career path as Izzo came to the rescue. In Monday’s B1G coaches teleconference, Izzo proclaimed Weber to be among the best coaches in the country. Izzo added that we, the Illini people, are lucky to have Weber.

I sometimes wonder whether the coaching fraternity ever throws a game among itself. Illinois-Purdue 2004 comes to mind.

Weber conceded the pressure surrounding his program. Perhaps it’s just his tendency to speak in the second person, and on behalf of a unit, but he seems to regard “the pressure” as a team burden, not a Bruce Weber burden. As if Illini Nation were calling for Tracy Abrams scholarship to be revoked.

Weber conceded, again, that he prefers defense to offense. Why didn’t Tyler Griffey play? “Who’s he gonna guard?” Yes, Tyler has not sparkled recently, but he’s been good against the Spartans. Playing to win is more exciting than playing not-to-lose. Not scoring while holding your opponent to even more not scoring = soccer.

Contrast Illini legend Dave Downey, who shrugged off the charge that he was soft on D, telling this week’s News-Gazette Sports Page audience that all five guys on his team generally outscored their man. It’s a winning strategy, and a better spectator sport.

*Korie Lucious and Chris Allen will probably join Royce White and Chris Babb in an all-ex-B1G champion of some sort, possibly featuring ex-SIU Anthony Booker in a co-starring role. If coach Fred Hoiberg returns a Tim Floyd vibe to Ames, America may once again find itself thinking “Fred Hoiberg … that rings a bell.”

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