Ben Howland's team dropped a third straight game against Southeastern Conference competition on Tuesday night when a comeback bid fell short at Kentucky. Despite the 0-3 start in league play and the team's 7-8 overall record, you should remain optimistic about the direction Ben Howland is taking the program.
I know a lot of people, including myself, expected an instant turnaround when Howland took the job at MSU. After all it was hard not to respect his resume of three straight final fours at UCLA and impressive list of 18 players placed into the NBA.
But when you inherit an absolute mess left over from the previous coach, it takes more than one year to effectively build a program back up to relevancy.
Not that Rick Ray left Howland with zero to work with, but he left behind a slew of players who had too many fundamental problems to count, and a group of guys who never learned how to finish games in crunch time.
That's been evident early on as MSU has squandered away all five games that were decided by less than ten points. They blew late leads in some of those games such as against Texas Tech and Texas A&M.
Learning how to win and finish games is often a psychological issue, and not a talent one.
This group of seniors have spent their whole career playing for a defensive-minded coach, and not one who knew how to put the nail in the coffin and finish off an opponent.
Howland faces just as much of an uphill climb to change his player's psyche as he does to improve their fundamentals. They're still learning how to win, and it takes more than a few games to undo three years of losing that's still in the back of his team's head.
More than anything they need a nail-biter victory against a top-25 opponent, something to build their confidence in close games.
They were close to accomplishing that in two of their last three games. The Kentucky game wasn't really in question until the end, but the game against Texas A&M was back and forth for much of the contest. That's the kind of game they must learn how to finish if they want to take that next step and vault out of the SEC cellar that's contained them the last three seasons.
While it looks MSU is headed there again thanks to an 0-3 start in conference play, there's still a lot of basketball left and plenty of time to right the ship.
Yes, an NCAA tourney bid is out of the question and an NIT appearance is also looking bleak, but you should back Ben Howland 100 percent and go support the team. The foundation is being laid for better things to come.
Not only is Howland still installing a winning attitude and developing players unlike the previous regime, but he's about to bring in a top-notch recruiting class that he can work with the next four seasons.
The wins might not come year one, or even year two, but they will come.