Saturday, March 5, 2016

Farewell to four unforgettable seniors

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

Spartans hammer Penn State

After a few post-game celebratory beers at Harrison Roadhouse, I've returned home after watching Michigan State demolish Penn State 88-57 at Breslin Center.

There was quite a bit of commentary regarding Tom Izzo's criticism of his big men even after the Spartans hammered Ohio State in Columbus. Izzo knows what this team is capable of accomplishing and will accept nothing less than maximum effort. The path is clear for Michigan State to not just contend for a national title, but to win the whole shebang. My feeling is that Izzo senses the landscape of college hoops this season and that this is a great opportunity for the Spartans to finally win that elusive second Izzo national championship.

Today's game was never close. From the moment Deyonta Davis won the opening tip, Penn State never offered up a challenge. From the Nittany Lions side, the most excitement came when Pat Chambers lost his mind after a double technical and I thought police might need to intervene to restrain him. Had his assistant coaches not held him back, Chambers might have done great bodily harm to an official. And I'm only slightly tongue-in-cheek.

It was a sun-drenched and warm-ish day in East Lansing. The crowd at Breslin was lively and seemed to reflect the pleasant weather outside. That said, Penn State doesn't make Spartans fans' blood boil or pulse quicken like Wisconsin or Michigan, so the energy level was nowhere near the fever pitch I've seen against those teams. With the MSU team's level of motivation, it didn't need to be.

Amazingly, the Spartans still have a slim chance of tying for the Big Ten title. Early in the season, I thought Iowa or even Maryland would roll to the conference crown, but they both are struggling. Though Indiana hasn't dazzled me, they are in a position to win it.

Ultimately, the Big Ten championship doesn't matter that much (though it would be gratifying to earn a share), the way MSU is playing right now, a national championship is in their sights.