Izzo appears eager to turn page

Drew Neitzel tries to console senior Maurice Ager

As the outcome became inevitable, the tears streamed down the faces of Maurice Ager and Paul Davis. Those are the lasting images that will be etched into the memories of Michigan State basketball fans when they think back to the 2005-06 basketball season.

EAST LANSING - As the outcome became inevitable, the tears streamed down the faces of Maurice Ager and Paul Davis. Those are the lasting images that will be etched into the memories of Michigan State basketball fans when they think back to the 2005-06 basketball season.

Unlike the much maligned group of seniors led by Chris Hill, Kelvin Torbert and Alan Anderson who pulled themselves off the mat and scrapped and scraped their way to a Final Four to cement their legacy as a Spartans success, Ager and Davis were unable to accomplish anything as seniors. No Big Ten title, no Big Ten tournament title and no NCAA wins.

Instead of being remembered as two franchise players that led their team to a Final Four, Elite Eight or even a Sweet Sixteen, Ager and Davis suffered the dubious distinction of being first round knockouts by a George Mason team they had previously handled on their home floor a season earlier.

The distinction between this group and the group the year before is that the previous group played the game the right way. While perhaps not as talented, not as prolific and not as NBA worthy, that group played Spartans basketball; tough and physical inside, owing the rebounding battle and playing tough tenacious defense.

This year's group did none of the above.

Opposing forwards and centers had a picnic in the Spartans pourous interior defense. Rebounding? Only if they caromed out to the free throw line. This team shied away from physical contact and seemed intent to forge a new brand of Spartans basketball, bombs away from the three-point line.

Perhaps that's why Spartans head coach Tom Izzo appears to be intent on turning the page on this group and getting to work with three supremely talented incoming freshman; workman 7-foot center Tom Herzog, 6-foot-6 swingman Isaiah Dahlman and 6-foot-7 forward Raymar Morgan.

Izzo could ask seniors Delco Rowley and Matt Trannon, both of whom have a year of eligibility remaining to return. Trannon at times brought forth images of program founder Antonio Smith. Rowley, who was hurt more than he was healthy appears eager to start a new life in business. Both could help re-instill the Spartan Way, defense, rebounding, physical interior play.

"We're going to get back in the weight room to work on toughness and character," Izzo told the media in an exit press conference. "I promise we'll be tougher and I promise we'll get this program back to where we all want it."

Izzo appeared eager to work his magic with the new group. He even seems willing to allow junior standout Shannon Brown to walk away from East Lansing. Brown has said and then re-iterated that he wants to return for his senior season, but Izzo told the media "I'm going to look into it (how high Brown could be drafted). He had a hell of a year. We'll make the best decision for him. His dad, his family and everybody are on the same page."

But then Izzo left open a carrot for Brown to chew on. "We'll make him into the [J.J.] Redick of our day. We'll get him playing great."

If indeed Brown returns, he and backcourt mate Drew Neitzel could become the focal point of a new group of Spartans.

Redshirt senior Drew Naymick, a 6-foot-10 center from Muskegon will likely be inserted in Davis spot. Alongside Naymick will likely be 6-foot-8 forward Goran Suton, who made strides at the end and showed he was ready for more playing time. Dahlman would likely get a shot at replacing the scoring punch lost from Ager's departure. The Minnesota prep star has a reputation for being able to create his on shot. That would allow Morgan and Herzog to be brought along slowly, although the Flint prep standout could be pressed into service if Naymick falters.

While Brown is likely to return and become the focal point of the 2006-07 Spartans squad, they'll likely struggle. With Ohio State fielding an outstanding recruiting class and Iowa and Indiana still talented laden, MSU will have a struggle staying in the top five of the conference.

But with stars Kalin Lucas (Orchard Lake St. Mary's), Chris Allen (Norcross, GA.) and Durrell Summers joining the Spartans fold in 2007, the future looks bright talent-wise for MSU.

Somebody just tell the new guys to bring their shoulder pads and a lunch pail, they're going to need it.

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