Unpredictable Spartans make Izzo edgy going into Big Ten tourney Print
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Tuesday, 11 March 2008 00:14
NCAAB Headline News


 EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) -Tom Izzo's right knee bobbed above his tapping foot as he fidgeted with the cap of a water bottle, twisting it on and off.
The coach was worked up Monday about the free-throw disparity that worked against Michigan State in three crucial losses, the critics who knocked the Spartans even when they were 19-2 and his team's inconsistent play.
The 19th-ranked Spartans were undefeated at home this year, lost five of their last six road games and won three of four games on a neutral court.
Heading into this week's Big Ten tournament, no one - including Izzo - is sure what to expect.
``I have trouble judging where this team is,'' Izzo said.
The Spartans (24-7, 12-6 Big Ten) will be the No. 4 seed in Indianapolis, where it will play No. 5 Ohio State (19-12, 10-8) in a rematch of the regular-season finale. The winner will likely play top-seeded Wisconsin.
Michigan State fell apart Sunday on the road against the Buckeyes, scoring just two points in the last five-plus minutes and turning over the ball a season-high 21 times in a 63-54 loss.
``The turnovers definitely were a shame,'' Izzo said. ``But it's correctable and I'm looking forward to playing them again.''
In the three games against Iowa, Penn State and Ohio State, opponents combined to shoot 100 free throws to Michigan State's 31.
``Hacking you can control, some of the other things you can't control,'' Izzo said.
Even though Izzo often says he tries to block out what outsiders think of his program, it usually bothers him on some level.
``People think a lot more about our team away from home than they do here,'' Izzo said.
A bit reluctantly, Izzo agrees with those who believe Michigan State did not meet expectations in the regular season because senior guard Drew Neitzel struggled at times.
The preseason All-American and Big Ten player of the year made a pair of 3-pointers in the first 1:23 against in the last game against the Buckeyes, then went scoreless by missing his next three attempts and passing up a shot that led to a clock violation late in the game.
Neitzel is averaging 13.4 points - down from 18.1 as a junior - and has shot about half as many free throws compared to last season. The lackluster season left him off the Wooden Award's top 24 list, which was released Monday, but Big Ten coaches put him on the All-Big Ten team.
``I don't think he's coming off picks as hard as he did last year and he's passing up some shots,'' Izzo said. ``When that happens, you're not as confident as you should be.
``You can coach a team, but you're not a psychologist, who can jump into somebody's brain.''
Izzo, though, hopes Neitzel can play up to his potential for the rest of the month in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
``Maybe this is a new start for him,'' Izzo said.
 

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