Kalin Lucas is Michigan State's best player. He's a lightning fast guard with a versatile game; he can run the floor and shoot and pass and pretty much do everything Tom Izzo asks him to, physically. Which, apparently, is part of the problem. Lucas isn't doing what Izzo demands mentally, or emotionally, or something, and Tuesday Izzo decided Lucas needed a little timeout to think about that notion. So Izzo kicked Lucas out of practice. Ouch.
(Personal aside you may feel free to skip: I, too, was once kicked out of a basketball practice. I and several other John F. Kennedy grade school teammates were asked to leave by our coach because we snuck into the cafeteria during a water break and chugged a bunch of the school's chocolate milk. It was -- WAIT FOR IT -- a bad choice. Zing!)
Here's the thing, though. One practice is not a big deal. Izzo basically said as much to the Lansing State Journal (hat tip: The Only Colors), reminding reporters that he's kicked his best players out of practice before:
"Oh, yeah, [Mateen] Cleaves sat out of a practice. Marcus Taylor sat out of practices. Alan Anderson, I mean, yeah, it’s happened with other guys."
So Izzo has done this before, and usually, because he's Tom Izzo, things get straightened out, relationships are mended, Final Fours are achieved, and lessons on life and manhood and all the stuff Gene Hackman taught the Hickory boys in "Hoosiers" get thrown in for good measure. This is why Tom Izzo is Tom Izzo.
But what if Lucas doesn't fall in line? What if one practice, or tonight's game with Texas-Arlington, isn't enough? What if Lucas' leadership issues remain for weeks on end? After all, Izzo's other, Lucas-related comments are less encouraging:
"No, it was before practice. It was weeks, months. I haven’t been happy, I’ve been realistic with you guys and I said sometimes, you know, as far as [Lucas'] play, I think other guys have got to do a better job. But as far as his leadership, he’s got to do a better job. So I don’t think I’ve been any different the whole year. It’s just that drastic things have to happen if people are gonna make changes."
There's plenty more, too, and while some of it plays down the notion that Lucas' suspension or "timeout" or whatever it is isn't actually a big deal, the words "drastic things have to happen" tend to inform otherwise. In other words, if Lucas takes his suspension in stride and does what Izzo asks from here on out, maybe this isn't a big deal. Maybe it's just a blip on the radar. Maybe it's one of those things CBS will show in their Final Four montage as a marker for when the Spartans "really came together," or something. But maybe it's worse than that. If it is, Michigan State's already slightly disappointing season will only get worse, and with the rest of the Big Ten waiting, now is not the time.