February 4, 2009
Minnesota vs. Michigan State
I don't know what Tom Izzo is saying to his players these days, but whatever it is clearly worked. After two lackluster performances at home, his team FINALLY showed up to defend their homecourt. Tonight's game was absolutely incredible and it actually left me feeling--dare I say it--SORRY for the poor Golden Gophers. It seemed that no matter what they did, it just wasn't enough. The cameras cut to Tubby Smith on the sidelines and I laughed at how this man, a national championship coach with years of wins and wisdom behind him, looked completely bewildered (as did his team on the court). It's no secret the Spartans have had their ups and downs this year--injury upon injury, inability to close out a game, lapses on defense, losses at home--but last night sent a clear message that no matter what the future holds, MSU won't leave quietly.
From the opening tip, Durrell Summers and company were all over the floor, grabbing loose balls, banging for rebounds, knocking down shots and looking like a team that will have no problems reaching the Final Four. Don't get me wrong--I'm not saying that Michigan State is a shoo-in in ANY sense of the word. But with a few more performances like that, it's hard not to at least consider it when filling out the office bracket.
I think the truest mark of a team is not the total in your wins and losses column, but rather the way they respond when challenged and knocked down. Every team, no matter how talented, will always have their ups and downs on the court--it's part of the beauty of the sport: the idea that on any given night, at any moment, 5 on 5, anything can happen. But it amazes me at the ease with which so many fans, analysts and observers are so quick to write off one team or another based on just a few games, especially early in the season. A team looks fantastic in December and they're automatically our national champion. A team drops an early loss to say, Maryland, and they're overrated (not like THAT happened this season. Oh wait....) Now, in the month of February, is when teams should be hitting their stride. In the days and weeks ahead, we'll find out if this MSU team is the real deal or just a flash in the pan.