Tom Izzo isn’t losing sleep over what his Michigan State team can be. He is losing sleep over what his team has become. He said so Thursday when he met with reporters after practice, two days after his Spartans lost at Illinois while turning the ball over 24 times. Film study confirmed what he saw from the bench in Champaign, Illinois. His guards were lousy. His bigs didn’t rebound. None of them defended. “I thought we were awful,” he said. He included himself in the criticism, too. He should’ve. Though not because he’s suddenly forgotten how to coach. A coach telling the press what he must do better is standard fare after a loss. The finger can’t always point outward. This isn’t the first time an Izzo team has struggled mid-season. Nor is it the first time he’s vowed to correct the struggles. In the past, when Izzo lamented a lack of focus or effort or rebounding, he got the benefit of the doubt that he could fix what he lamented. Now? I’m not so sure. There seems to be an unease among the Spartan faithful that I haven’t sensed before. There are two reasons for this: 1) Expectation. When MSU raced to a 9-0 start in the Big Ten, led the conference in offensive efficiency, shared the ball, shot the ball well, and played better than its individual parts, the fanbase rethought what kind of team the Spartans are. Because of that start in conference play, chatter emerged about a potential No. 1 seed and maybe even another Final Four run, despite a lack of expectations entering the season. In other words, the team began the year with little pressure, then couldn't adjust to higher expectations, resulting in three straight losses. Now folks aren’t sure what to think. Layer that confusion with the context of Izzo’s recent NCAA tournament history, and you’ve got the other reason for the unease: 2) Evolution. Or, more specifically, the lack of it. Izzo is paying for his recent tournament failures. There was the first-round loss to Middle Tennesse State three years ago when many thought that team was Final Four-quality. And, more painfully, the second-round loss to Syracuse a year ago at Little Caesars Arena. Lottery pick Jaren Jackson Jr.'s extended time on the bench in that game — he played just 15 minutes — still comes up every time the rookie has a big night in the NBA for the Memphis Grizzlies. Ben Carter, a sixth-year transfer who ended up in Israel's basketball league, played 23 minutes instead. "Ben Carter over Jaren Jackson" has become a shorthand reference for Izzo’s recent struggles on the bench. Izzo will admit that he wasn’t as sharp in his prep for the Syracuse game as he normally is. He was fried. In some ways, his team was, too. That said, he knows a different combination might have gotten him to the second weekend of the tournament. He knows he made tactical mistakes. You can't argue that. Then again, one more 3-pointer by the Spartans and MSU's inability to make the second weekend of the tournament is a thing of the past. Even the best programs get upset in the first round, or the second. Look at Duke, where Mike Krzyzewski has suffered one of each in the last five years. The difference, of course, is that Krzyzewski won a national championship in that same five-year stretch, one of five titles in his career. That gives him a deeper reservoir of goodwill to call upon. So when a No. 2-seeded Duke team with five future NBA players — including the NBA's next big thing in Jayson Tatum — loses in the second round, as the Blue Devils did in 2017, no one questions Krzyzewski's coaching acumen. Much has been made of what Izzo couldn’t do in 2018 despite the presence of two lottery picks and Cassius Winston and Nick Ward and Josh Langford and a deep bench. The team's abbreviated tournament stay must mean Izzo can't coach real talent. Or that maybe Izzo can't coach offense at all any more. That’s silly, considering a lack of defense, not offense, has cost him in each of the last few seasons. That is true again this year. This three-game skid is the result of several things. But none of them involve a lack of shooting, unless you count a few key missed free throws against Indiana. Izzo stressed that on Thursday. And he’s right. His team isn’t rebounding or defending now like it did during the 9-0 Big Ten start. And rebounding and defense are the staples of his program at its best. (He's not alone in that: John Beilein’s Wolverines sit atop the Big Ten because they defend better than almost everyone else in the country.) Truthfully, most years feature teams with NBA talent that don’t go deep in the tournament. It’s the nature of the NCAA's postseason, not to mention the nature of relying on 19-year-olds. Other than Duke’s 2015 title team, in which the three best players on the team were freshmen, veteran teams have cut down the nets lately. Witness: Villanova a year ago. Krzyzewski may well win another championship with a squad full of freshman generational talents this year, but a mix relying on NCAA experience and late-blossoming NBA talent is usually the better bet for March. Izzo’s team has played as fluidly and efficiently on offense as anyone in the country, right up until stumbling in the past two weeks. MSU was doing so without surefire NBA talent. . That is a testament to the adaptability of Izzo and his staff's coaching style. Izzo's emphasis on defense, rebounding and pushing the pace isn’t archaic. He just has to figure out how to reinstall those things within his team, as he said Thursday. . This must happen soon. If you listened to Izzo this week, he thinks it will. He deserves the chance to show it.