Thursday, March 20, 2014

Some post-Big Ten tournament thoughts and observations

Only a week ago the sky was falling, now MSU are critical darlings. Sports Illustrated chose MSU to appear on one of their six regional tournament special issues. Even the President of the United States has the Spartans winning the national title. Being a naturally neurotic Spartan fan, all this adoration has me worried. I suppose as long as the MSU team views all this attention as flattering and nothing more, and remains focused on the task at hand, they will be fine.
Maybe the team will actually view the NCAA tournament as relief. After all, they were ranked number one early in the season, lost to North Carolina, fell from that lofty perch, then endured all of the injuries and frustrations of the Big Ten season. The team is finally healthy and ended the Big Ten season on a bright note, not only able to play (and win) three games with all the pieces back in place, but get a little payback against Wisconsin and Michigan, and win a tournament title in the process. Now, this is not to suggest that all the Spartans' problems are completely solved (though, who knows, maybe they are), but I'd much rather have MSU enter the NCAA tournament on this note than having bowed out early in the Big Ten tournament.

I've never been a big fan of the Big Ten tournament, but it is certainly sweet when "your" team wins. The post-season college basketball conference tournaments are akin to extra credit in school. If you're a student who has, for whatever reason, not done well during the school term, your teacher will give you the opportunity to elevate your grade with extra credit. The conference tournaments give the average or under-achieving teams an opportunity to "raise their grades." The top teams generally have little to gain from the tournaments, so it's not surprising when they bow out early.
Now a little more about the Big Ten tournament championship game against Michigan, a subject I still have yet to tire of discussing, though by tomorrow it'll officially be old news and time to move on.
In my pre-game post, I wrote that I would need some "happy drugs" to get me through it. As far as mind and /or pain-dulling "drugs," there really wasn't much need for anything. I consumed a grandé iced Americano in the first half and was pretty well hopped up on caffeine by that point. In the second half, I sucked down three beers and reverted back to my bachelor days for awhile, as I watched the game while pacing around the living room.

By the way, I didn't scratch my schadenfreude itch by listening to WTKA on Monday morning. By the time I tuned into the station, the show hosts had fallen into their default position in times of distress:a football recruiting discussion.
Some big plays I noticed while watching the replay of the MSU/Michigan game:
In the first half, Travis Trice had a terrific drive, splitting two defenders to the basket, tossing up an acrobatic underhand layup when the shot clock was winding down. That was an important play at another point in the game where it appeared the Wolverines were poised to make a move. The steady emergence of Travis Trice could and should be big for this team in the NCAA tournament, as great guard play is almost always a key to success this time of year.
Gary Harris dribble drive to the basket for the slam with only a few seconds left on the clock near the end of the first half. This kept momentum with MSU at a point in the game when it looked like Michigan was perhaps one three-pointer away from closing the gap to four points, and feeling good about themselves heading into the locker room.
The Spartans jumped all over Michigan as soon as the second half started and immediately seized control, not allowing Michigan an opportunity to get back in the game.
It's safe to say everyone knew the game was probably a Michigan State win after Branden Dawson's windmill dunk at the 16:57 mark of the second half. One could almost feel and hear the energy drain from Michigan after that play.
There is a danger in celebrating too much or too hard after defeating ones arch rival in basketball. I learned the hard way last year after MSU's 75-52 win in East Lansing. This win over Michigan is more of a "we're still here" statement rather than a "reestablishment of the natural order" win that some MSU fans seem to think of it. As long as Beilein is in Ann Arbor, Michigan basketball will remain strong.
I see no reason why both programs can't be strong at the same time, there are certainly enough good basketball players in the Midwest to spread the wealth evenly. Folks around here seem to think that if one program elevates, then the other program automatically must go down. I know that's not the way people see things in North Carolina with the UNC Tar Heels and Duke Blue Devils. A few years ago, UNC had a string of six-consecutive wins over Duke. I didn't hear a single commentator or fan say that Mike Krzyzewski had "lost it" the same way I heard people in these parts declare that Izzo was on the way down after Michigan won six of the last eight in the MSU/UM series.
Perhaps part of this is due the fact that we in Michigan aren't used to having two strong basketball programs at the same time. We automatically assume that if one is up, the other needs to be down. In North Carolina, it's a given that both Duke and UNC will be strong every year, and even NC State is never counted out. The state of North Carolina is accustomed to having multiple strong programs within its borders year-in and year-out.
For the foreseeable future, the Michigan State Spartans and Michigan Wolverines will take turns delivering body blows in this rivalry. Now, as you all know I don't root for the Maize and Blue in anything, but even I must grudgingly admit that having two nationally prominent basketball programs in the Great Lakes State is a nifty situation.

It's time to put the regular season to bed, get ready for most important part of the college basketball calendar--March Madness. I hope that the Spartans can overcome all the national love and affection they have been receiving for the last four days.


No comments:

Post a Comment