It's early morning Sunday, and I'm trying to get over last night's loss to Michigan the best and most constructive way I know, writing in this blog.
I was at Breslin Center last night, and witness my first "in-person" loss by MSU basketball since 1987, when I was on hand at Jenison Field House to see a Steve Smith-led Spartan team lose to George Washington University. Since then, nothing but wins until last night.
First of all, hats off to Michigan. From an offensive standpoint, they played about as close to perfect as I've ever seen. It's not as if MSU was playing bad defense against them either, the Wolverines were just draining those three-pointers at will. They also made 25 of 30 free throws, though it certainly seemed better than that watching the game.
But the fact remains, MSU played shorthanded, and I'm not surprised that the Spartans didn't have enough to hang on and win. And, yes, I know the Michigan argument that "we don't have McGary, so stop complaining." The difference is Michigan has had over a month to adjust to him being out (his last game was December 14). Although the Spartans have adjusted to life without Adreian Payne, losing Branden Dawson two days before the Michigan game was a dagger. MSU played last night's game on-the-fly with several players in unfamiliar roles.
The officiating also inexplicably changed from the first half to the second half. In the first half, there weren't many calls and the game had a flow. For some reason, this completely changed in the second half and the whistle seemed to be blown with much greater frequency, to the point that the game became a free-throw shooting contest. I don't know what precipitated the change.
Give Michigan credit, though. They've finally found a coach in Beilein who knows what he's doing and U of M basketball is back. I enjoyed watching them flounder for well over a decade, but knew it wouldn't last. The Wolverines have now won five of the last seven in the series. Writing that statistic almost makes me nauseous.
Now, it's on to Iowa for the MSU hoops team. I don't see the Spartans winning that one. I hope I'm wrong, but that's a tall order for a shorthanded, banged up team.
I'm trying hard to see "the big picture," but admit that it's difficult right now. When the Spartans get Payne and Dawson back, they will be a different team come February and March. Not only will they have two of their principle cogs back, but players like Valentine, Trice, Kaminski, Gauna, Ellis, and Schilling will be better from all the minutes they have been forced to play. That's what I'm telling myself. The Spartans are bound to take some lumps throughout the rest of January until they are able to get healthy again. I fear that Michigan may be poised to run away with the conference title, but I hope that by NCAA tournament time, MSU will be poised to make a deep run, perhaps to the title game.
So now that I've vented in this blog, I hope that I've successfully salved my wounds and am ready to move on from last night's disappointment. I have tried as best as possible to be gracious in defeat and take the high road.
It's a long road to March Madness, and this is just one small bump that, I hope, will be forgotten by end of the season.