Men’s Basketball: A picture of consistency

Franklin Kao

On the hardwood, leaders come in different shapes and sizes. There are the level-headed and experienced ones like the San Antonio Spurs’ Tim Duncan. There are the charismatic ones like the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James.

And then there are the soft-spoken and mentally tough ones like Michigan State’s Drew Neitzel.

Touted as one of the nation’s top guards, Neitzel is leading the No. 10 Spartans in another great season. Michigan State, which faces Northwestern on Thursday night, is 16-2 overall, with a 4-1 record in the Big Ten.

While success can easily lead to complacency, the senior co-captain will not the accolades of others influence his game.

“It’s a great honor and I appreciate people putting me into that category, but at the same time, with those honors comes responsibility,” Neitzel said. “I use it as motivation to continue to get better and carry out those honors. People can say ‘you’re this, you’re that.’ (But) if you don’t produce, then it’s nothing.”

As one of two seniors on a young Spartans’ squad, Neitzel said his main goal is to remain consistent. He said he wants to help his teammates bring their best efforts every night they play.

Neitzel had no problem coaxing a good effort out of himself in the Spartans’ two wins over the Wildcats last season. He averaged 19.0 points per game against NU, and made eight 3-pointers over two games.

Junior Travis Walton, the team’s other co-captain, said he appreciates Neitzel’s efforts as a teammate and enjoys playing in the backcourt with a great shooter.

“He’s great. He gives me assists,” Walton said with a smile on his face. “He’s a great teammate. He talks to me a lot. … (He’ll) tell me what I’m doing right (and) what I’m doing wrong.”

Last season, the Spartans reached the second round of the NCAA tournament after defeating Marquette 61-49. They lost their second-round game to the powerhouse University of North Carolina Tarheels 81-67.

This year, Neitzel said he wants to get the team back to the Final Four, which he participated in his freshman year, and to win the Big Ten championship. The Spartans have only lost two games this season, one coming against UCLA, ranked No. 1 at the time, and the other against Iowa earlier this month. Michigan State’s notable victories include wins over then-No. 5 Texas and then-No. 22 Brigham Young University.

Neitzel’s scoring average took a tremendous jump from his sophomore to junior year, from 8.3 to 18.1 points per game. The guard accredited the increase to his larger role on the team.

“At Michigan State, coach (Tom) Izzo’s constantly recruiting (and) bringing in top recruits year after year,” Neitzel said. “I just had to wait my turn. Eventually with guys leaving and going to the NBA, it opened the spot for me and I just wanted to take advantage of the opportunity that coach Izzo gave me.”

Though his minutes and scoring averages have dipped down again this season, to 30.9 minutes and 13.5 points per game, Neitzel’s contributions extend beyond putting points on the board.

The senior guard leads the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio, with 3.65 assists for every turnover he commits. He leads Walton, his teammate, and Ohio State’s Jamar Butler by almost a full assist to every miscue.

Izzo said Neitzel has grown to become a great defensive player and an unselfish teammate throughout his college career.

“He’s a smart kid,” Izzo said. “He learned that winning is going to take both ends of the court. … He understood his limitations, what he could and couldn’t do and adapted, which is what great players do.”

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