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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Team of Destiny?

This is a photo, published on the Lansing State Journal's web site, of a clearly emotional Tom Izzo hugging Earvin "Magic" Johnson after MSU's 70-69 win over Tennessee. Looking at this picture, it's hard for me not to get choked up, just like Coach Izzo.

What an exhilirating, tension-filled, amazing game today. Same can be said about this entire tournament. Just an astounding journey for the Spartans to a most improbable Final Four.

After the game, I was thinking of all the Final Fours in the Tom Izzo era, and how they made me feel. This was has to be the most special for me personally.

1999 was great because it was the first one, and none of the national pundits were predicting MSU, the upstart, to get past Kentucky, the defending national champion. I'll never forget being glued to my TV screen, watching Morris Peterson calmly sink a seemingly endless string of free throws to ice that game. 2000 was a great run by a great team that was on a mission to win it all. 2001 was somewhat unexpected because Cleaves, Peterson, and Granger were gone, but Charlie Bell made a seamless transition to point guard, and Zach Randolph and Jason Richardson were brilliant. I have to admit, though, that by '01 it seemed like old hat. We stupid fans can get blase fairly quickly.

This year's Final Four run seems closest to the 2005 team of Kelvin Torbert, Alan Anderson, Chris Hill, and Paul Davis. That was a team that did not win the Big Ten, lost several big games during the regular season, and had certain media members (who shall remain nameless) challenging their heart and intestinal fortitude. That team beat Duke and Kentucky en route to the Final Four.

Just when I thought nothing could top last year's team for exciting tournament games (the '09 team was Izzo's fifth Final Four squad), along comes the 2010 team. In my bracket I made the mistake of doubting their ability to make it past the Sweet Sixteen. Though the team had tied for the Big Ten title, it just seemed something was missing. They then lost the first game of the Big Ten tournament. (I hope that by now, I've realized that the conference tournament is meaningless). I had no idea what to expect from this team in the NCAA tournament, and the tournament committee clearly had little respect for the team by saddling them with a #5 seed and sending them out to Spokane.

What have I learned? Never, ever doubt a Tom Izzo-coached team. Even in great adversity, (maybe because of the adversity, come to think of it) they have played their best basketball of the year. Today's incredible win brought tears to my eyes.

Spartan basketball: the magic continues

We're less than an hour from tip-off of Michigan State's Elite Eight matchup against Tennessee. Is there still magic left? Do our guys have enough left in the tank to get past this game and on to another, most improbable, Final Four?

MSU basketball continues to amaze me. Tom Izzo's brilliance as a coach continues to bowl me over. This is a team that lost it's starting point guard for the season, has a forward (Delvon Roe) whose knee is in excruciating pain, a guard (Chris Allen) who is still nursing* a sprained arch. The team is getting valuable minutes out of a walk-on from Okemos High School (Mike Kebler). It's essentially a team that is seemingly held together with duct tape (or, maybe more appropriately, athletic tape). Yet, somehow, they've continued to win gutty game after gutty game in this NCAA tournament. Korie Lucious has exceeded most everyone's expectations and has been brilliant at point guard. Draymond Green has established himself as the team's emotional leader, Raymar Morgan and Durrell Summers, two players who have confounded fans and media with their inconsistent play during the regular season, are now playing their best basketball of the year. It seems that the injuries have united the team, rather than hurt them.

After a regular season in which the team was plagued by suspensions, incohesion, and spells of uninspired play, these guys have gotten it together at the best possible time and despite all logic, are on a roll. Now they go up against a very good, extremely athletic, if inconsistent, Tennessee Volunteers team. I don't know what's going to happen, but I have a feeling that this MSU team may be a team of destiny. Whatever happens, it will be an exhilirating ride, and whatever this MSU team has left will be icing on the cake.

*I have no idea why this word is showing up like this, but don't click on the link--I had nothing to do with it leading to this site.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Another great year for Spartan hoops

As I write this, the Michigan State basketball team is preparing to play the Northern Iowa Panthers in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament. It's MSU's ninth Sweet Sixteen appearance in the last 13 years. Pretty remarkable.

The team is banged up, battered, and practically held together by duct tape as they enter this game. Kalin Lucas is out for the season, Chris Allen and Delvon Roe are nursing ailments, while Raymar Morgan had dental surgery to fix a broken tooth suffered in the Maryland game. I am hopeful that they can somehow conjure up some of the magic that got them past Maryland last weekend, but it may be difficult for them to do so against a tough Northern Iowa team.

Regardless of what happens tonight, it's been another great year for the MSU basketball team. Today, as I was out walking during my break at work, I was struck by the fact that there is an entire generation of Michigan high school hoops prospects who don't remember a time when MSU was not good-to-great in basketball and wasn't the dominant program in the state. Michigan's Fab Five is ancient history to them: they grew up watching the likes of Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson, Shannon Brown, Maurice Ager, Drew Neitzel, and now Kalin Lucas, Raymar Morgan, Korie Lucious, and Draymond Green. As long as MSU has Tom Izzo at the helm, it's hard to imagine this changing anytime soon.