When we heard from Tom Izzo last season, the tone was usually one of frustration and anxiety. For the first time in a long time, Izzo's team wasn't improving in January and February. It wasn't defending or rebounding particularly well. It wasn't showing signs of progress.
In August, Izzo said the prospect of the 2011-12 season made him the most excited he'd been in years. He had a promising mix of players, sure, but more than anything, he just seemed excited to be done with 2011. Can you blame him?
Now 10 weeks into the 2011-12 season, Izzo is excited for slightly different reasons. His squad (which hosts Iowa in East Lansing tonight) has won its last 14 games, most recently an overtime thriller at Wisconsin, and that mix of players has rounded into something much more than "not the guys from 2011." Sophomore guard Keith Appling has been a revelation. Guard Branden Dawson is one of the purest frosh talents in the country. Forward Derrick Nix -- who was close to quitting the program last year -- is in better shape and more productive than ever before. And Draymond Green, a beloved and versatile veteran, is leading the way.
All of this has Izzo excited in a new way -- so excited, according to the Detroit Free-Press, that he's even having trouble sleeping:
"It's not sleeping because of excitement and thinking [about] where we can go," he said Monday. "If we could get a little more consistent ... this team can be awfully good." [...] When Izzo lies awake at night he is imagining crisper execution and longer periods of consistent play. He does not worry about effort. He thinks this team defends as well as any he has had in recent memory.
On that front, he's entirely right. To this point in the season, on a per-possession basis, no Michigan State team has defended as well in recent years; the closest was the 2008-09 team, when Goran Suton and Travis Walton were still banging bodies at the Breslin Center. The Spartans rank No. 7 in Pomeroy's adjusted defensive efficiency. Perhaps more importantly, they have that classic Izzo trait, the one that prior to the past two seasons always seemed to set his teams apart: rebounding. The Spartans take care of the defensive glass, and they attack their offensive misses. Few teams in the country are as effective at both.
This year, at least thus far, the world of Michigan State hoops has tilted back on its rightful axis.
One imagines Izzo missed a lot of sleep last season, too. But for entirely different reasons.