Saturday, November 14, 2015

Basketball in the midst of international tragedy

I don't really want to write about politics in here, but in this case it's really unavoidable.

Yesterday, as everyone knows all too well at this point, Paris, France was devastated by horrific terrorist attacks. The news hit shortly before I headed out to Breslin Center to watch the Spartans open up their basketball season against Florida Atlantic.

I don't know if "cognitive dissonance" is the proper term to describe my feeling at enjoying the trivial pleasure of watching a college basketball game while, across the ocean, one of the world's great metropolises was in the midst of horror. The game suddenly seemed pretty inconsequential, and I found myself periodically checking my phone to catch updates of what was happening in France.

But as far as the game goes, it was enjoyable and a good distraction from what was happening in the "real world." Michigan State will have an exciting team this year, and there is no telling how far they could go. It's not out of the realm of possibility to suggest this could be another Final Four squad.

Here's my Facebook post that I wrote after returning home from the game: "...opening night of the 2015-16 season. Checking my phone at timeouts to find out what was happening in France. I'm enjoying a trivial distraction in Breslin while Paris is suffering through unspeakable horrors. The Spartans should have an exciting team. Newcomers Dayonta Davis and Matt McQuaid will become fan favorites. (In his first official game, Davis had the second highest single game blocked shot total in MSU history. He could be a star player). Matt Costello and TumTum Nairn are poised for breakout seasons. Denzel Valentine looks like he is ready to be the leader in his senior year. Thanks to my bro-in-law Michael for inviting me. Had some great post game beers and burger at Harrison Roadhouse." Lourawls Nairn, Deyonta Davis, and Matt Costello are the players who impressed me the most. Nairn continues to bring non-stop energy to the team and his defense reminds me of Travis Walton. To top it off, he's added a reasonably decent jump shot to his repertoire (though with Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes, and Eron Harris around, Nairn will not likely be asked to shoot much). Deyonta Davis is a freshman, but he certainly does not look like a freshman. He has length, size, and a feel for the game that belies his youth. He's also a shot-blocking machine. Davis will be a fun player to watch this season. Matt Costello came into his own late last season, and the way he played against FAU, there is every indication that he is picking up where he left off.

At this point, my only concern is that old bugaboo, free throw shooting. It was not good last night. Maybe this is just an aberration, and it will be better in future games; but based on what I saw last night, it may still be a problem.

But compared to the problems faced by the people of Paris, my concerns about MSU's free throw shooting are pretty damned inconsequential.

Michigan State 24, Maryland 7: post game reaction

I was a little off on my 41-20 score prediction. I didn't anticipate Connor Cook missing the entire second half, and I underestimated both the ineptitude of Maryland's offense and how well the Spartan defense would play, and despite the obvious shortcomings of the Terrapins' offense, credit must be given to the MSU D for laying the lumber all afternoon.

In a game in which MSU's offense struggled all day, it was Riley Bullough's pick six late in the second quarter that set the tone for the rest of the game. MSU went up 14-7, and as it turned out that was all they needed.

Watching this game was, quite often, about as enjoyable as getting ones teeth cleaned at the dentist, but the Spartans got out with a victory. It remains to be seen if they have enough to beat Ohio State in Columbus, though. That'll be a tall order for the Spartans.

Pre-game post. (Topple the Terps)

Just completed my pre-game 5k run and have a few minutes to write about today's football game against Maryland. I hope the Spartans take out their frustration on the Turtles. I want to see kickoff coverage cleaned up and an adequate performance by the secondary. Maybe a healthier offensive line can establish a respectable running game.

I'll go way out on the furthest tree limb and say the Spartans win this one 41-20.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Headed out to Breslin tonight

I'm heading over to Breslin tonight to see the Spartan basketball team for the first time this season, and I'm looking forward to checking out what should be an exciting team--and I'm finally getting excited about basketball season. Players on the 2015-16 MSU team who particularly intrigue me are as follows: Bryn Forbes (who has reportedly rebuilt his body--much bigger and more muscular--and worked on his defense), Denzel Valentine (it's HIS team now), Dayonta Davis (sounds like a tremendous athlete), Matt McQuaid (I hear he can shoot the lights out), Eron Harris (another great scorer), TumTum Nairn (one of my favorite current players), and Matt Costello (I think he's poised for a breakout season). I may be forgetting some players, but those are the ones to come to mind off the top of my head.

After the Nebraska football mishap, I have avoided most talk about college football and a lot of sports talk radio (with the exception of Jack Ebling's 3-6 PM radio show on WQTX). I think I've finally recovered from the disappointment and am hoping that the Spartans can bounce back tomorrow against Maryland. This is just the type of opponent that MSU could and should be able to exert its will and push around. However, I've been waiting for that to happen all season and it has yet to transpire, so like most of MSU's games this year, it'll probably be a death struggle until the fourth quarter.

Well, it's 5:48 PM and I need to get ready to head out the door. I'll wrap up this brief post and try to get back on here after the game and recap what I saw at the Brez.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Knee-jerk early morning Spartan football insomnia blues

It's past 1:30 AM and I can't sleep.

The focus is on the blown call by the officiating crew that gave Nebraska the game-winning touchdown, but really the game was lost earlier.

The offense is the reason the Spartans were even in a position to win this game in the first place, and the offense should have been given the opportunity to WIN the game in MSU's penultimate possession, but instead the coaching staff got sucked into the standard conservative playcalling that didn't even come close to yielding a first down. To make matters worse, since Nebraska had two timeouts to burn, hardly any time came off the clock anyway.

Perhaps the Spartan coaching staff was under the impression that surely the defense could stop the Huskers with only 55 seconds left in the game and no timeouts left, but the defense had struggled all night. What made them think this would suddenly change?

So while much of the focus is on a blown call--and it was an egregiously terrible call--the Spartans' doom was already at least largely foreshadowed by the Spartans' missed opportunity to ice the game by picking up just one first down.

Anyone who has been following Michigan State football this season with any level of detail knows that this is a flawed team. The chinks in the armor appeared on the first day of training camp when Ed Davis, arguably the team's best linebacker, was lost for the season. Then the secondary took big hits early on when its best cornerback, Vayante Copeland, was lost in the late stages of the Oregon game.

So we have a team with a patched-together secondary and a kickoff coverage unit that has been, at best, mediocre all season. MSU's Swiss cheese defense and spotty special teams combined to keep a highly motivated and spirited Nebraska team in the game. So while we can all rightfully be pissed off about that blown call, it's far from the only reason the Spartans lost.

MSU's faults finally caught up with them, and the coaching staff's unwillingness to place the game in the capable hands of its senior quarterback further hindered the team's chances at a victory.
I hope that the MSU coaching staff learns from this. You have a great quarterback in Connor Cook and receivers like Macgarrett Kings, R.J. Shelton, and Aaron Burbridge who have proven time and time again that they can make big plays. Use them wisely next time.