Saturday, March 12, 2016

White-knuckler against Maryland

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

Big Ten Tournament

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

A happy Senior Day

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).