Saturday, December 31, 2016
I suppose the tone for 2016 was set on December 31, 2015, when the Spartan football team was completely destroyed by Alabama in the College Football Playoff.
Though the Spartan basketball team had a reasonably decent Big Ten season in 2016, injuries prevented them from achieving everything they could have achieved, though it's hard to get too angry about a second place finish in the conference and a 13-5 Big Ten record. Though winning the Big Ten tournament was a highlight, the first round loss to Middle Tennessee State brought the season to a resounding thud of an end.
Meanwhile, the Michigan State hockey program is a far cry from what it has been in the past. The team muddled its way to a fifth place conference finish (out of six teams) in the 2015-2016 season (6-12-2 in the Big Ten, 10-23-4 overall). I don't follow hockey enough to know what it is going on under Tom Anastos, but based on the results on the ice, it's not good. Hockey at MSU doesn't have near the buzz it had in the '80s and '90s when the late great Ron Mason was coach, and has even fallen far below the standards set by Mason's successor Rick Comley.
And then there's football. 2016 was a disaster. It was so bad, that the high water mark, the pinnacle, the highlight, came in week two when the Spartans hung on to beat Notre Dame in South Bend. It was a game that, at the time, we thought was a big win. As it turned out, the Irish would go on to have a sub-par season, and the Spartans would only win one more game the rest of the year.
Let's just hope 2017 sees a reversal of fortune for MSU sports.
Monday, November 28, 2016
In what seemed like a fitting twist of fate, Damion Terry was knocked out of the game in the first half after suffering a concussion. Terry was playing his best game of the season, and though it was disappointing that the Spartans had to settle for field goals, Terry was at least leading the offense down the field and looked as confident as he had all season. When Terry couldn't return after getting hit in a helmet-to-helmet collision, I certainly had a sense of impending doom. But then again, the entire season has been about impending doom.
By the time the score was 31-12 in favor of Penn State, I'd had enough and went for a run to let off some steam. By the time I'd finished, the game was over and MSU had lost 45-12.
So the football season comes to a merciful end. I don't have a heck of a lot to add right now, just that this season seems to have mirrored what has been a fairly putrid 2016.
Saturday, November 12, 2016
I don't know what to say about Michigan State football anymore. I watched the entire MSU/Illinois game and I was shocked. Shocked at how anemic the Spartans looked against a weak opponent. Shocked at how uninspired the whole team played after having played a good game against Michigan.
I gave up the opportunity for free tickets to today's Rutgers game. I just can't take this anymore, and I can't become further depressed by freezing in a half-empty stadium watching the Spartans in a death struggle against an equally pathetic Rutgers team.
I don't even know how much of this game I will watch on television. I suspect not much.
I am so out of sorts that I completely forgot about last night's basketball game against Arizona. I'm disappointed that the Spartans lost--I suppose that eventually MSU WILL win again in a major sport--but encouraged by how well Miles Bridges played. This is a Spartan team that is still learning to play together. I assume that once they gel, they will be outstanding.
Back to football, I don't even know if I should give a prediction for today's game. Honestly, I don't have much faith in this team anymore. It saddens me to write that. Just for the heck of it, I will drink a large glass of green Kool-Aid once more and say that somehow, someway, the Spartans actually find a way to win at home today. Final score: MSU 23, Rutgers 20.
Saturday, November 5, 2016
I'm waiting until the last second to publish my weekly Spartan dispatch. The Cubs' World Series championship and this train wreck of a presidential campaign have dominated my attention.
I did take time early this week to watch the BTN replay of the Michigan game. Count me as one of the "sunshine blowers" who was encouraged by how MSU played. I didn't expect the Spartans to rack up 217 rushing yards against one of the nation's best defense (or allegedly one of the best). For the second week in a row, MSU's offense, and in particular its running attack, looked fairly efficient.
The defense, on the other hand, still has issues. Though it limited Michigan to three points in the second half (the bizarre 2-point conversion return for a touchdown doesn't count against the defense), the Spartans couldn't stop Michigan in the first half. They got little pressure on Speith, but even when they did he came through with some great on-target throws. There's not much even the best defenses can do when a quarterback reacts well to pressure.
Like most other fans, I was disappointed in some incredibly vanilla playcalling in the red zone. I don't know why Dave Warner/Mark Dantonio didn't at least try some deception. Josiah Price is one of the conference's best tight ends who has delivered big plays time and time again since 2013 and he was never utilized.
But all-in-all, it was an encouraging performance. If the Spartans can bring just 75 percent of the focus they had against Michigan, they should beat Illinois today by two touchdowns.
So even though my predictions have been terrible this season, I'll call this game: MSU 31, Illinois 17.
Saturday, October 29, 2016
As usual, I meant to get around to this post earlier, but no such luck.
It's Michigan week, and I don't remember a Michigan week with less sizzle since 2006.
We have a 2-5 (0-4 Big Ten) MSU team up against a 7-0 (4-0 Big Ten) Michigan. Two teams headed in opposite directions. One team in seeming disarray and the other playing for a possible Big Ten title and football playoff berth. We MSU fans have become accustomed in recent years to OUR team playing for high stakes and UM playing for scraps.
I don't want to say the Spartans have no shot today, because of course they have a shot. But realistically it's a LONG shot. Much will need to go right for the Spartans to win, and as we know not much has gone right for MSU this season. Even if MSU gets some breaks (recovered turnovers, maybe a pick six, possibly connect on a big pass play to Shelton or Corley) I just don't know if MSU can get enough throughout a 60-minute game.
Maybe MSU's best chance is psychological. UM's seniors have never beaten the Spartans, so perhaps that's in their heads. But I find that hard to believe. The Wolverines have been stewing for a year and change over last year's stunning loss, and with the way they are playing this season they must be brimming with confidence. (We can always hope that they're even a little over confident).
Based on what I've seen from MSU this season, even if they play their best game of the season I don't know if it'll be enough to win. This is a team with an offensive line that struggles to protect the quarterback, struggles to run block, and a defense that can't get a pass rush without blitzing and can't get off the field on third down. Compounding that are the often head-scratching mental mistakes they make.
I hate to do this, and I hope I am wrong, but I will call this one: Michigan 38, MSU 10.
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Once again, this was a game that demonstrated that Michigan State is weak in almost every facet of the game. They have an offensive line that can neither run block nor pass protect with any consistency (Exhibit A: Freshman quarterback Brian Lewerke getting hammered at the goal line for a safety). They have a defense that cannot get off the field, and cannot seem to ever get a third down stop. This is a team that is capable of getting off to a quick start, but completely incapable of maintaining a lead.
I really don't know what to add to this. What more is there to say about a season that feels like it has gone completely off the rails?
At this point, I'm really not sure how much I'll be tuning in to the MSU football season. I watched the Indiana, BYU, and Northwestern games in their entirety and I don't consider it as time particularly well spent. There's a strong possibility I'll be bailing on the Maryland game. Who knows, maybe me not watching will be a good thing for the Spartans.
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
For the good news: The weather was glorious, with mostly sunny skies and game time temperature above 60 degrees and actually feeling much warmer in the sun-drenched bleachers of the north end zone. As usual, the Spartan Marching Band was in excellent form and at least in the beginning the day was everything that is wonderful about college football.
Even the game seemed to go well in the early going, with the Spartans mixing passing with running to deliver a long drive capped off with a touchdown. Even though the rest of the first half was a snooze, it was at least reassuring that the defense had kept BYU out of the end zone and the Spartans maintained a 7-3 lead.
Then the bottom fell out.
The Spartans struggle in every single facet of the game. The offensive line can't block, the quarterbacks struggle to make plays and lead the team (no doubt not helped by the offensive line's struggles), the defense can't get off the field on third down, the kicking game (particularly field goal kicking) is inconsistent at best, and to top it all off the offensive coordinator inexplicably abandons the passing game after the first drive of the game.
There are years when a team can mask one or two deficiencies by excelling above average in other areas. In 2012, MSU's excellent defense compensated--to at least a small degree--for its anemic offense and the team finished at 7-6. Last season's high-powered offense made up for a sometimes spotty defense and dodgy special teams to lead the team to a college playoff berth.
This year, it seems that the Spartan football team excels at nothing, and the result has been a three-game losing streak and 2-3 record.
Based on what I saw Saturday, I don't where or when MSU will win again. Northwestern is at least on a par with BYU, so that game will most likely be a struggle, and Maryland on the road looks like a loss. I definitely do not see the Spartans beating Michigan. If I'm being completely honest, with the way this MSU team is playing now, I only see two games remaining on the schedule that the Spartans can and should beat: Illinois and Rutgers. That means that, barring some kind of miraculous improvement, the Spartans are looking squarely at a 4-8 season.
Someone may need to wake me up when basketball season starts.
Sunday, October 2, 2016
Saturday, October 1, 2016
I'm having a hard time getting into football season this year, and thus the blog has suffered as a result.
Maybe it's because I don't like the way I've fallen so deeply down the rabbit hole in the past, at the expense of other interests and activities, and am trying to avoid that because it's not healthy.
Another aspect of my disinterest is the MSU football team itself. They are an enigma and hard to get excited about so far. The Wisconsin game was a complete disaster. There's no way to sugarcoat it. The worst home loss in almost seven years.
Does anyone have any idea what to expect tonight against Indiana? My fear is that the Hoosiers are due to win the Old Brass Spittoon one of these days and the Spartans could be vulnerable enough to comply. On the other hand, MSU could come out angry and ready to make up for last week's horror.
Saturday, September 24, 2016
I've been seriously negligent towards this blog so far this football season.
When will I, or anyone else for that matter, stop doubting Dantonio or MSU before a big game?
In fairness, nobody knew quite what to expect from the Spartans after the completely "meh" Furman game, but as I wrote in my last post, Dantonio likes it that way. Why would MSU want to go all out against Furman when they don't have to, and show its hand to Notre Dame?
So the Spartans went out and steamrolled the Irish for three quarters, before letting up a bit on the gas pedal and making the game somewhat close. However, when the Spartans absolutely needed to make plays to seal the victory, they did so.
Of course, we still don't know exactly how good Notre Dame is. But the fact remains: any time a team plays and defeats the Irish in a night game under the outstretched arms of Touchdown Jesus, it is a big win.
In a little over an hour from now, MSU opens up Big Ten play against Wisconsin, another team that is difficult to get a read on. On one hand, the Badgers beat LSU, on the other hand they struggled a bit with Georgia State last week--and the Badgers start a redshirt freshman quarterback today.
If this game goes according to almost every other Michigan State/ Wisconsin game, it'll be decided by less that ten points either way.
I'll go ahead and pick the Spartans to win, 24-17.
Saturday, September 17, 2016
I've been putting this off for two weeks, but seeing as how it's game day, I can't procrastinate any longer.
Well, the Furman game wasn't quite what I expected. Though I never felt the Spartans were in danger, it was closer than I'd have preferred and it was not an enjoyable game to watch whatsoever.
Nobody knows what to think about this MSU football team, and Mark Dantonio prefers it that way. They enter Notre Dame Stadium this evening as a total enigma.
It's important to not allow the result of tonight's game completely color our expectations for the rest of the season. It'll be a difficult environment for the Spartans, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if they lost. I'm not trying to be pessimistic, just realistic.
One thing I've learned over the last nine years, however: doubt or question a Mark Dantonio team at your peril.
If the Spartans lose, they can still go on to have a great season, as happened in 2011 and 2013.
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
It's been humid almost every single day since, heck, the beginning of June (certainly since July at the very least. I don't know. It's been muggy for so long I can't even remember when it started. Probably after it was hot and dry, which was probably June). It's been hot for so long that it's scrambling my brain.
Anyway, the point is the weather has not one single hint of autumn. This makes it difficult for me to get into a football frame of mind.
I'm still very much in summer mode, though truth be told I'm tired of summer. The unrelenting sultry weather is wearing on me.
But, though this probably not an admission I should make on a presumed "MSU Spartan sports blog," I'm reluctant to take my inevitable "dive down the rabbit hole" that occurs about every single year on or near September 1. Now, what'll happen is that a few months from now I'll read this post and wonder what the hell was wrong with me.
Whether I'm ready or not, MSU football begins the season in two days against Furman. I will be planted in front of my TV, beer in hand, watching all the action. Though it's impossible to get a gauge on where the football team is now, having lost quite a few players from last year's team, I imagine it should be a fairly comfortable win for the Spartans. They will likely look rusty in the first half, but their depth will wear down the Paladins in the second half and the final score should be something in the neighborhood of MSU 41, Furman 10.
I'm sure I'll have a lot more to say when the game is over.
Sunday, July 24, 2016
The news early this afternoon hit me, and I'm sure every other Michigan State fan, like a ton of bricks. Or possibly two or three tons of bricks.
Mike Sadler, the acerbic, intelligent, self-deprecating, and always amusing former Spartan punter died yesterday in an automobile accident. Sam Foltz, current Nebraska punter, also perished in the accident.
Sadler's frequently hilarious tweets were beloved by Spartan supporters, and even by folks with no Michigan State affiliation. But Sadler was more than a writer of funny Twitter messages. He was an intelligent young man who had--unbeknownst to me until today--completed his master's degree at Stanford last year. He was planning on attending law school, but must have still had his eye on an NFL career as he and Foltz were attending a kicking camp in Wisconsin.
I suppose it's a cliche to say that "[Such-and-such young age] is too young to die," but 24 really is too young to go. Sadler had a bright future on whatever path he chose to take, and it's heartbreaking that his life is cut short before it really had an opportunity to unfold.
Saturday, June 18, 2016
Mason was, if not the greatest coach in college hockey history, one of the greatest coaches. He is certainly in the top two or three.
One fact is certain, he put Michigan State hockey on the map.
Before Ron Mason arrived in East Lansing in 1980, Michigan State hockey was completely average. Amo Bessone did have his moments as Spartan hockey coach, but not that many. In 1966, the Spartans came out of nowhere to win an unexpected national title. But in Bessone's 28 years as coach, he compiled a fairly pedestrian overall record of 367-427-20.
Ron Mason changed all of that quickly. The Spartan hockey program went from being merely competitive to being one of the elites of the collegiate world.
In the early 1980s, Spartan football and basketball had fallen precipitously. Muddy Waters' gridiron gladiators were Big Ten also-rans, while Jud Heathcote was unable to sustain any momentum after the 1979 championship season. Hockey, however, was another story.
Ron Mason built a perennial championship-caliber program, and hockey was easily the biggest ticket on campus. When I arrived at Michigan State in 1986, students waited in line for hockey tickets. Munn Ice Arena was sold out for every home game. Beginning on December 19, 1985, MSU hockey had 323 consecutive home sellouts. (As a student, I went to a handful of hockey games, and that was only because I know some friends who'd managed to get season tickets. Otherwise, there's no way I could have ever made it into Munn).
MSU sports in the 1980s was the reverse of what it is today. In the '80s, you could fire a cannon in Jenison Fieldhouse--then the home of the basketball team--and not hit anyone, while Munn was standing room only. In 2016, they can't give hockey tickets away, while basketball (and to a lesser extent, football) are the hot tickets.
Anyway, one person was responsible for MSU's powerhouse hockey program--and that was Ron Mason.
I won't bother with a recitation of Mason's accomplishments as a coach. All you need to do his "google" his name to find that information. Suffice it to say that he was one of the greatest coaches in the history if college hockey. Perhaps THE greatest.
After retiring as hockey coach in 2001, Mason was MSU athletic director from July 1, 2002 until January 1, 2008. Although he takes some heat in retrospect for his hiring of John L. Smith as head football coach back in December 2002, I've always felt that criticism to be unfair. Although Smith's football schemes ultimately ended up unsuccessful in the gritty Big Ten, he at least cleaned up the program. And in fairness to Ron Mason, he recognized the Smith failure (firing him in 2006) and, along with the assistance of Mark Hollis, Tom Izzo, and Lou Anna Simon (among others) found a great new football coach in Mark Dantonio.
Through his tremendous successes as a hockey coach, and even in his failures as A.D., there's no doubt that Ron Mason always had Michigan State's best interests at heart. So farewell to a great Spartan.
Friday, April 29, 2016
What exactly has Connor Cook done to turn off so many people? I just don't get it. Yes, he has a quirky personality, but couldn't the same be said for Joe Namath and Jim McMahon (just to name a few "free-spirited" quarterbacks off the top of my head). And while on the subject of free-spiritedness, doesn't that often come with the territory when discussing quarterbacks?
I can understand why the Los Angeles Rams drafted Jared Goff with the first pick. He's a local kid from Cal who will sell tickets. And maybe he'll turn out to be a great quarterback. After all, he did play in the PAC-12. Clearly, he also has a big time arm with 4719 yards passing last season and 43 touchdown passes. But I'm not sold on Carson Wentz. North Dakota State? Yes, he has the size that NFL scouts look for in a quarterback, and his numbers were good--but I'm just not sold. Okay, I get it, North Dakota State won three NCAA Divison II national championships with Wentz at quarterback, but the Bison pretty much own Division II football. They've won 12 national championships. (Thank you, Wikipedia).
Maybe Connor Cook's stats aren't as eye-popping as Goff's and Wentz's, but 9194 career passing yards (in three seasons) with 71 touchdowns and only 22 interceptions is not too shabby. In addition to that, Cook led MSU to a 36-5 record as a starter, with two Big Ten championships and two bowl victories--three bowl victories if one counts the 2012 Buffalo Wilds Wings Bowl in which Cook took over for a struggling Andrew Maxwell. Though Cook's numbers in that game were pedestrian at best, he provided a spark that the Spartans needed to achieve that come-from-behind victory.
Not only was Cook a great player on the field, but he never got into any trouble. By all accounts, he was a good student and law-abiding citizen. Am I just looking at this through green-tinted glasses? I don't understand why Connor Cook is still on the board.
Saturday, April 23, 2016
I'm skipping the spring game this year, and watching a bit of it on TV.
I feel a little bad missing it, and hope there are enough other Spartan fans there so our fanbase isn't again accused of being apathetic by certain members of the media.
Based on what I'm seeing on TV, it looks like an okay crowd. Maybe about 30-40,000.
My initial observations are that Tyler O'Connor looks sharper at quarterback than Damien Terry. And as is often the case in MSU spring games, defense is dominating.
What can anyone take from these spring games, anyway? It's almost like watching a spring training Grapefruit League baseball game and making a broad generalization about the upcoming Detroit Tigers season.
Friday, March 25, 2016
In case you're wondering, I'm over the Middle Tennessee State loss. In fact, for whatever reason it never bothered me nearly as much as it apparently did my fellow MSU brethren. Don't get me wrong, it pretty much ruined the tournament for me (I've barely watched since the loss), but nobody has had to talk me off any ledges.
Even if MSU had made it past the first round, I'm frankly not convinced the Spartans were any guarantee for the Final Four anyway.
Speaking of the Final Four, my NCAA bracket is completely shot to hell. All of my Final Four picks have bit the dust. At this point, I'm reduced to finding the teams that would bother me least if they won it all, and pull for them. Those two teams are, in order, Villanova and Oklahoma. (I am most certainly NOT pulling for either North Carolina or Syracuse)
In other news, Mark Hollis has thrown his public support towards Tom Anastos and Anastos will get at least one more year as Spartan hockey coach. I really don't follow the hockey program closely enough to decide if this is a good idea, though allegedly Anastos has a good recruiting class coming in. Part of me cynically believes Hollis doesn't want to admit he screwed up the Anastos hire in the first place.
All I know is that if the hockey team has another season as awful as this one, the screws will turn much tighter and the small but vocal hockey fan base will clamor even more vociferously for a change.
Hockey is an absolute shell of what it was when I was a student (1986-1991). Students waited in line for season tickets, and the demand was so great that two different half-season packages were doled out. Of course, a large factor in hockey's popularity back in the '80s was that basketball then was woeful and football generally mediocre.
With Tom Izzo turning the basketball program into a national power, and Mark Dantonio (maybe) doing likewise in football, hockey's struggles are less noticeable. Frankly, outside of a handful of hockey diehards, I don't get a feeling that current students give a hoot about hockey. I'm not sure if the athletic department feels much pressure to improve the program. It feels like an afterthought these days. Perhaps this will only change if basketball slips in the future, or enough disgruntled hockey fans put up a big enough fuss.
Saturday, March 19, 2016
Sunday, March 13, 2016
*I swear that every time Jim Nantz would say, "It's been [such and such] minutes since Maryland has scored," the Terps were guaranteed of draining a 35-foot 3-pointer. I counted, and this occurred at least three times during the game.
*I try not to get down on the play-by-play/color guys too much. (If I can get away with it, I'll simply watch games with the sound turned down). However, I have to say that Grant Hill seemed to have a hard time hiding his Maryland pom-poms. Perhaps he forgot the Terrapins are no longer in the ACC.
I followed up watching the MSU/Maryland replay by watching a little of the Purdue/Michigan game. The Spartans will have their hands full with Purdue's big men: Hammons, Haas, and the "almost Spartan" Swanigan. I know this is probably stating the obvious. If the Spartans can just hold their own in the paint and knock down the outside shots they didn't make yesterday against Maryland, they should be okay. I hope they didn't expend too much energy in dispatching the Terrapins. This game might go right down to the wire.
See you on the flipside.
Saturday, March 12, 2016
I don't think there is a sport that sends me as perilously close to cardiac arrest as basketball, specifically Michigan State basketball. One would think by this point, after decades of white-knucklers--most of which end up in Spartan victories--I'd be used to it. I'm getting a little better at keeping it together in these games. The expletive count is down since I got married and had kids. In addition, after all the success MSU has had under Tom Izzo, I kind of expect the Spartans to find a way to win despite whatever adverse circumstances befall them.
The second half of today's Maryland game was about as enjoyable as a teeth cleaning or maybe a hernia operation (yes, I've had one so I'm speaking from experience). In any case, the Spartans overcame turnovers, poor shooting, great defense from Maryland, and a largely M.I.A. Bryn Forbes to find a way to win. Huge kudos to Deyonta Davis, whose blocked shot late in the game (14 seconds left? I can't remember, it's a bit of a blur now) was the pivotal play of the game.
So now it's on to a second consecutive appearance in the Big Ten Tour championship, this time against Purdue. I assume the Boilermakers will have a large contingent in Indianapolis. I hope that the determination of MSU's seniors will be enough to get the Spartans' fifth Big Ten tourney title.
Friday, March 11, 2016
It's the third day of the Big Ten tournament, and already craziness has ensued. Illinois beat the free falling Iowa Hawkeyes yesterday, and then got blown out by Purdue today. Michigan, after sleepwalking through the last half of the conference regular season, but also remarkably still fighting to get into the NCAA tournament, beat Northwestern and #1 seeded Indiana in dramatic fashion.
As far as my team is concerned, I'm not thrilled that Michigan State has to play Ohio State for the third time in about three weeks. I'm particularly not excited that this is a Buckeye team that is fighting for its NCAA tournament life. I've compared the Big Ten tournament (and most major conference tournaments) to an extra credit assignment in school: the students with the most incentive to do well tend to be the ones who muddled through the school year. Generally, but not always, the teams that do the best in these tournaments are the ones that still have work to do in order to reach the Big Dance.
Here and there, a team that has either won its conference's regular season title or has finished near the top will go on to win the conference tournament. It's hard to pinpoint why this happens. Maybe it's due to simply being the best team in the league and wanting to prove it definitively (as MSU did in 1999 and 2000), or despite having a good regular season, feeling that a score needs to be settled (MSU beating OSU in 2012, avenging a loss in the regular season finale; crushing Michigan in 2014, making up for an injury-plagued conference season and two demoralizing losses to the Wolverines. Last year, MSU avenged two regular season losses to Maryland by beating the Terps in the BTT, and almost beat Wisconsin in the final).
As far as what happens tonight, I have no idea. MSU players have indicated they want to win the Big Ten tournament. We'll see if that's enough to beat a desperate Ohio State.
Sunday, March 6, 2016
As a fan, I know I've watched a pleasant and successful MSU game when an occasional "damn" is the worst expletive to leave my mouth.
It was almost the best possible Senior Day. It could only have been better if Bryn Forbes had more success behind the 3-point arc (he was a human-like 1 for 6). The Spartans got off to a good start, kept a resilient Ohio State team at arm's length, and won fairly easily 91-76. Considering how well the Buckeyes had played coming into the game, and how desperate they are to get off the NCAA tournament bubble, this was no small task. Ohio State has a good team and when they are given a opening, Lyle and Loving can shoot lights out.
This Michigan State team just finds ways to win in any conceivable manner. Try and take away the perimeter shooting, and the Spartans will find Costello, Davis, Schilling, or Wollenman in the low post for easy lay-ups or dunks. Try and stop the big men, and they'll kick it out to Valentine, Forbes, or Harris for an uncontested (or little contested) jump shot. There's a reason MSU is leading the nation in assists. They have an uncanny ability to find the open man.
One of the hardest parts of being a college sports fan is that we are only able to enjoy these players for a limited time. I think I'll miss Costello, Forbes, Valentine, and Wollenman more than any other Spartan senior class I can remember. They are at least on a par with the 2005 team (Hill, Anderson, Torbert) or 2000 team (Cleaves, Granger, Peterson).
Saturday, March 5, 2016
Michigan State fans will say farewell today to one of the greatest group of seniors to ever come through East Lansing: Matt Costello, Bryn Forbes, Denzel Valentine, and Colby Wollenman.
I predicted a breakthrough year for Costello, and I'm happy to say he came through. His defense and rebounding in particular have been so outstanding that he may very well be selected by somebody in the NBA draft. But beyond that, Costello brings a childlike enthusiasm to the game that is infectious. People who don't follow MSU basketball may be put off by Costello's exuberant demonstrations, but I've never considered Costello a showuboat. He plays the game with the spirit of an oversized 10-year-old.
Bryn Forbes has blown most people away with his prolific 3-point scoring. Few players come off screens more brilliantly than Forbes, and his shot fakes have embarrassed many an opposing defender. I've been referring to him as "Stephen Curry, Junior" through most of the season. I don't know if Forbes will be drafted by the NBA, but I have no doubt he'll be playing professionally somewhere next season.
Stories of Denzel Valentine were legendary even when he was a prep player at Lansing Sexton and, along with Bryn Forbes, leading the Big Reds to a state title in their senior year. I still regret not watching Valentine and Forbes play Okemos High School when they were in my neck of the woods. (At least I've been able to see them many times in college). I thought Valentine would be an excellent college player, but I didn't foresee him becoming a potential first round draft pick and possible national player of the year. The kid has truly been a joy to watch grow as a player these four years.
Colby Wollenman is one of those wonderful, improbable stories that happens every once in awhile. A guy who didn't even intend on playing basketball, but walked on the team and is now a scholarship player who has made valuable contributions to the team. Wollenman's basketball career ends today, but he may have a bright future as a doctor.
It's hard for me to see the Spartans losing to Ohio State today. Even though the Buckeyes are playing for their NCAA tournament lives, and the Spartans will be dealing with the emotions of this big day, MSU should have enough to come away with a victory.
Sunday, February 28, 2016
Friday, February 19, 2016
But enough about me griping about Wisconsin, the Spartans put forth perhaps their best defensive effort of the season tonight--or at least the best one I've seen in awhile. (It's easy to let hyperbole get the best of you in the immediate aftermath of a big win). MSU, and in particular Deyonta Davis, shut down Nigel Hayes and they also contained Bronson Koenig, Koenig only had one three-pointer through most of the game, until late when the Spartans' D may have gotten a little lax and Koenig knocked down a few when the Spartans had already essentially clinched the win.
As far as I'm concerned, and granted I view the world through green glasses, Denzel Valentine is national player of the year. He has become a great shooter, and incredible passer and assist machine, gritty defender, and has the ability to drive the lane when the opportunity arises. But beyond that, Valentine is a great leader and makes every player on the floor better when he's out there (and even when he's not). I feel quite comfortable in placing Valentine in the pantheon of great Spartan basketball players/floor generals, a list that includes Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Scott Skiles, Steve Smith, Mateen Cleaves, and Draymond Green,
Shout outs also to Eron Harris (possibly his best game of the season), Bryn Forbes (his great shooting continues), Matt Costello (making a case for a shot in the NBA), and Matt McQuaid (didn't do anything on offense tonight, but has turned in to an excellent defender).
Well, my computer is about to die, and I need to try and get some sleep. Go Green!
Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Sunday, February 7, 2016
Michigan State absolutely hammered Michigan 89-73 at Crisler Arena and it wasn't really that close. Bryn Forbes impersonated Stephen Curry once again, Matt Costello continued his hard-nosed spirited play, Denzel Valentine showed everyone that he's back to his old self, and Michigan State looks like they officially have their mojo back.
I fully expected Michigan to give the Spartans everything they had, and thought the game may not be decided until the last one or two minutes of the game. Instead, the game was essentially over after about the first five minutes. Michigan did go on a bit of a mini-run late in the first half to cut the lead to eleven, but that was as close as they got. The Spartans led by 16 at halftime, got out of the gate quickly in the second half, built the lead to 30 late in the second half, and the deceptively closer score was a result of sloppy play by MSU's bench players.
From this fan's perspective, this is exactly what I needed after Michigan stole all the attention on football signing day. It actually was a great week for Spartans sports, with the MSU women's hoops team throttling Michigan mid-week, and the Spartan hockey team recording a rare victory when they slipped past the Wolverines in overtime, 3-2 on Friday night. (Unfortunately, the Spartan icers fell back to earth...or ice?...on Saturday night when they lost 4-1 to the Wolverines at Munn. Of course, I was glowing from the basketball win so I took this loss quite well).
But back to Spartan basketball. If you're a fan, you have to feel good about how this team looks right now. Clearly, the road game against Purdue will be a tough game, but one the Spartans can win, With the way the senior triumvirate of Costello, Forbes, and Valentine are playing, a win at Mackey Arena is certainly not out of the question.
Saturday, February 6, 2016
Another Michigan State/Michigan tilt is upon us, so I thought I'd take a few minutes to discuss it before tackling the task of cleaning the dirty cat boxes in the basement.
As usual, I face today's game with a degree of nervousness and trepidation. Though I think the Spartans should win, the game is in Ann Arbor and the Michigan basketball team is about as unpredictable as they come--if their shots fall, they are dangerous, but if they don't, disaster frequently follows. Some point to the Wolverines' drubbing at the hands of Indiana as an indication that the Wolvies are trending downward. Maybe. But I have a hard time believing that they will play that poorly in consecutive games--and this being a rivalry game, I fully expect Michigan to play extremely hard. But I also expect the Spartans to bring the ever-present chip on the shoulder. MSU has three senior leaders in Valentine, Costello, and Forbes who do not want to lose in what could be their final game against Michigan. So, for whatever my predictions are worth (since I'm a shameless homer), I'll pick MSU to win this one in a relatively close game, 82-75.
While on the subject of Michigan (a topic that never goes away), I should take the opportunity to clarify what I wrote about Michigan's recruiting event at Hill Auditorium. It's truly great that it raised so much money for the Chad Tough fund to fight cancer, and it's probably unfair of me to come down so hard on Jim Harbaugh. He has to be given credit for creating such a novel idea that was pulled off so successfully. It's exactly the sort of event that Mark Hollis has frequently devised here at Michigan State. Though I'm not always on board with every Hollis creation, I am generally more charitable towards him than I was towards Harbaugh. It was a stroke of genius to create an event that both loudly and extravagantly promoted the Michigan football program while also raising six figures for cancer research. Though I must admit I still view the whole affair with a bit of cynicism, kudos to Michigan for its generosity.
That was a rare moment of conciliation offered to the University of Michigan. I may be getting a little soft in my old age (though if you saw my back-and-forth with Michigan fans after signing day and after the Spartans' 3-2 win over Michigan in last night's hockey game, you might not think that's the case).
Now, before I get too warm and fuzzy with Michigan, it has to be said that lately they excel everywhere EXCEPT on the field. There is a constant bellowing bluster coming out of Ann Arbor about September Heismans, August Big Ten Champions, and Recruiting National Titles. I'm still waiting for any of this hot air to translate into results on the playing field.
Off to get to those cat boxes now. I may or may not get back to this blog after today's basketball game, depending on what mood I'm in.
Wednesday, February 3, 2016
It was national signing day, and I don't care that much...but that shindig in Ann Arbor sure got some attention
I don't know if I've ever mentioned it in this blog before, but I really don't care that much about national signing day. In fact, I don't pay all that much attention to recruiting in general. In that, I may be in the minority among fans of collegiate athletics.
With the dog and pony show in Ann Arbor, though, it was difficult to ignore. That, and the constant updates I kept getting on my phone about various recruits making their decisions.
I got in trouble with a Michigan fan on Facebook for referring to Michigan's recruiting hootenanny at Hill Auditorium as a "dog and pony show," but I stand by it. This particular Michigan fan called me "classless" because this Wolverine shindig raised a large sum of money towards cancer research.
It's all well and good that the all the fat wads of money the U of M faithful paid to see Tom Brady, Ric Flair, Lou Holtz (etc.) went to charity, but one has to be incredibly naive to believe this was solely about philanthropy and nothing else. If Jim Harbaugh hadn't already cultivated an image of huckster and shameless self-promoter who will stop at nothing to get attention, I'd think otherwise. The cynic in me believes the "charity" aspect of today's event was attached mainly to make it more palatable to the public, and not appear solely be a brazen attempt to hype the Michigan football program.
Saturday, January 30, 2016
I'm reserving judgment for now, but it looks like maybe, just maybe, Spartan basketball has righted the ship. They put in a dominating performance against Northwestern, a team that--after a great start--now does not appear capable of making the NCAA tournament.
Denzel Valentine looks like himself again, Bryn Forbes is out of his shooting slump, Matt Costello continues to play aggressive inspired ball, and Matt McQuaid had his best game in at least a month. He lit up the Wildcats in the second half.
So tomorrow MSU has what should be an easy win against Rutgers, the worst Big Ten basketball team in decades. Unless the Spartans come out either flat or over-confident (or both) it should be a blowout win for the Spartans at Breslin.
I'm still trying to figure out what Rutgers brings to the Big Ten. They are terrible in football and men's basketball, though they do have a strong women's basketball program under Vivian Stringer. Supposedly, Rutgers brings an East Coast television audience, but I'm not convinced.
On the subject of the most recent admissions to the Big Ten, I'm a little upset that it was so easy for Maryland and Rutgers to become members, while Michigan State had to cajole, lobby, and fight throughout the 1940s in order to gain admission. Now, admission to the conference seems to be as simple as how much television money can be gained from the new member school. The Big Ten isn't what it used to be.
Now back to Northwestern. Why are they so consistently mediocre in basketball? How is it that they have never made the NCAA tournament? It's baffling. Northwestern has been reasonably successful in football, but not in hoops. Conventional wisdom would be that it's more difficult to be good in football than basketball, though Northwestern has somehow defied that. I'll have to come back and inestigate this further.
Sunday, January 24, 2016
Much has been made about the neon day-glo lime green uniforms the Spartans wore last night against Maryland, with most fans (and non-MSU fans) disliking them.
Here's my take: As long as the players like them, and in turn play well while wearing them, I don't much care what they wear.
I stopped fighting the "uniform battle" years ago.
My favorite Michigan State uniforms ever were the ones the football team wore between 2007-2009, Mark Dantonio's first three season as head coach. They had a neat, clean traditional look that harkened back to the classic look of Duffy Daugherty's 1960s teams.
When MSU initiated the "re-branding" with Nike in 2010, and the football uniforms received a slicker, busier, more "modern" look, I wasn't happy. It seemed like MSU changing uniforms just for the sake of changing uniforms. I admit that when it comes to sports uniforms, particularly football and baseball, I veer towards stodgy traditionalism.
But a funny thing happened in 2010. When the famous "Little Giants" fake field goal play jump started what became an 11-2 Big Ten championship football season, those new uniforms I disliked so much when I first saw them before the season started didn't look so bad anymore.
My attitude has now evolved into--in the words of colorful former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis--"Just win, baby."
As long as Nike isn't calling the shots and force feeding uniforms that Michigan State doesn't like, I simply don't care anymore. As long as the players like them and play well in them, I will give my (frequently grudging) approval to whatever they wear. It may not stop me from shaking my head in "grouchy middle-aged guy" befuddlement, but I've surrendered in the uniform wars.
Michigan State players clearly loved those lime green uniforms and won a must-have game against Maryland yesterday, so I give 100 percent approval to those uniforms.
Now get the hell off my lawn!
Saturday, January 23, 2016
A much needed, and greatly appreciated, win for the Spartans over Maryland tonight. This coming after the blowout home loss against Iowa and the two gut-wrenching 1-point defeats at the hands of Wisconsin and (stinkin') Nebraska.
It'll be refreshing to tune into sports talk radio on Monday morning and not hear hours of "What the heck is wrong with MSU basketball?" for a change.
I hope the Spartans have righted the ship.Though it looks like a Big Ten title might be out of reach, bigger goals are still within reach.
Thursday, January 14, 2016
I just returned home from Breslin Center and am trying to process what has to be the worst home court butt-kicking MSU has received since Duke came to town in the 2003-2004 season and drubbed the Spartans.
Sunday, January 10, 2016
When this year's Spartan basketball team is firing on all cylinders, which thankfully has happened most of this season, they are an absolute joy to watch. This was definitely the case today, as MSU blew out Penn State 92-65 in State College.
It's windy and snowy outside here in Okemos, so it felt comfortable here on my couch drinking coffee with very little reason to get worked up. It did feel that Penn State was the beneficiary of some ticky-tack foul calls in the first half, resulting in a 19-3 free throw differential. This was the only reason the Nittany Lions were "only" down by 13 at the half.
The Spartans have so many weapons at their disposal. Bryn Forbes lit up the scoreboard in the first half, Matt Costello and Deyonta Davis continue to play brilliantly in the paint, with Costello in particular displaying some nifty moves in the last several games. Gavin Schilling provides strong defense, resembling an immovable brick wall in the post. And, lest I forget, how great is it to have Denzel Valentine back? He worked off his first half cobwebs and looked more himself in the second half, making "wow" passes and burying jumpers.
Now, how about we get some payback against Iowa on Thursday?
Saturday, January 9, 2016
I've emerged from the football cocoon and and slowly making the transition to a basketball frame of mind. Went to the Illinois game and saw the Spartans, still without Denzel Valentine, dominate a sad and depleted Illini team. Despite Illinois' travails, it was the most complete game the Spartans have played without Denzel in the lineup.
The highlight of the game may have come in the final 20 seconds, when a player I'd never seen before--playing without a name on his jersey--finally made it into the game, having spent what seemed like an eternity waiting at the scorer's table just itching for a clock stoppage so he could make his Michigan State basketball debut. The player is Greg Roy, a walk-on transfer from Adrian College. I tend to gravitate towards the guys who occupy the end of the bench, the "human victory cigars" if you will. This is probably because I can more closely identify with these players, since that has often been my role on any sports team I've played on. But it's also fun to see these guys, who work just as hard as the starts on the team--with none of the glory--get a chance to play in a game.
I should also add that we were sitting near two somewhat elderly gentlemen at the game--I overheard one of the guys say that he'd graduated from MSU in 1966--so I decided that I'd be on my best behavior. No jumping up and down, a minimum of fist pumps, and as little cussing as possible (not that I really do much cussing at games anymore. Usually nothing worse than "dammit!). I don't know if the guys would have been offended by my overt demonstrations of emotion, but I didn't want to risk it. As it turned out, the game was never in doubt, so there was little reason for me to act like a spaz. "Good sportsman" goal, therefore, accomplished.
Friday, January 1, 2016
Where to start?
The best indication of how bad a game is for me is the relative lack of alcohol consumed by yours truly. I drank one Stella Artois in the first half of MSU's 38-0 drubbing, and then no more.
In fact, I barely paid attention to the fourth quarter. I'd say that approximately midway through the third quarter, I muted the sound on the TV to avoid the inevitable Alabama lovefest, and by the fourth quarter I was barely even watching the game.
It was only slightly less horrendous than the 2011 Capital One Bowl. At least in this game, the Spartans finished with a positive yardage total (26 carries for 29 yards).
Alabama deserves credit for what proved to be a brilliant game plan. When Derrick Henry didn't even touch the ball in the Tide's first possession, my initial reaction was that they were over thinking it and getting too cute. But quarterback Jake Coker executed the pass-first strategy to perfection and the Spartans never adjusted.
But defense actually seemed the least of their worries because the Spartans couldn't move the ball an inch on offense. And in what might have been the turning point in the game, MSU blew an opportunity to cut the Bama lead to 10-7 (or at worse, 10-3) when Connor Cook stared down his receiver and threw a momentum killing interception. The game went downhill from there.
So, in times like this, I need to remind myself of how far this program has come since the dark days of Bobby Williams and John L. Smith. This pain will pass, and may prove to be just another growth ring in this program's development.