Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ohio State Throwdown

Big Ten-ACC Challenge Week is HERE!

I admit my bias...I want the Big Ten to kick some serious tail over the next couple days and claim victory.

After watching bits and pieces of the first few games, I really think it's possible. And then I settled in to watch OSU-Duke....and the Buckeyes blew my mind.
For lack of a better term, I'm going to be unoriginal and simply say that Ohio State was clicking on all cylinders. The energy and excitement in Value City Arena was so strong, I could feel it crackling through my television.

Ohio State came out ready to play and took total control from the opening tip...as evidenced by the fact they went up 11-0. The Blue Devils seemed shocked. OSU took away their rhythm and despite their best effort, they never really got it back. I've seen Duke play a couple of other times, so I KNOW they were better than what they showed. Instead of trying to go inside (which worked the few times they did it), they mostly jacked up 3s early in the shot clock, danced around the perimeter and made stupid fouls. I know Jared Sullinger is intimidating and very skilled, but Duke has enough size to combat that...but they didn't. For whatever reason, it was an off night...and unfortunately for them, EVERYTHING was going right for the Buckeyes.

Ohio State played a complete game on all ends of the floor--their defense was stifling, they harassed and hounded Duke players without fouling too much, moved the ball seamlessly on the offensive end (and showed great patience in doing so), took great shots and shared the ball...the assists were unreal. I'm going to go out on a limb and say this was a fantastic game for them and I doubt EVERY game will be like that...but that being said, it was the first time I had seen Ohio State play this season and WOW was I impressed. They really do have a complete team. Top 3: Aaron Craft is a defensive star and can run the point well, Jared Sullinger creates such a strong presence in the post and William Buford is the most dangerous. He can do it all--everywhere--and somehow gets lost in all the Sullinger/Craft talk...then BAM! He's lighting you up.

The one criticism they keep getting is that they aren't "deep." It will be interesting to watch if and how that affects them down the stretch...but I know enough to know I'll still be watching.

Monday, November 28, 2011


Greetings and Salutations kids!
Basketball season is finally upon us and look at that--I'm already behind in my postings. To make up for, I'm going to offer my pre-season list....Not the teams that will be the "best" but teams I enjoy and then of course, some general musings on things to watch for...I begin, of course, with my all-time #1...
1.) Michigan State Spartans: I felt this year's team was extremely underrated in the pre-season and after watching games against UNC and Duke, I am only more convinced. We have a strong senior leader in Draymond Green, great guard play with Keith Appling and lots of young talent on all ends of the floor. As much as I loved Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers, it was very clear that neither of them felt comfortable being forced into a leadership role and the combination of that and off-season injuries and dismissals (Chris Allen and Korie Lucious) REALLY affected last year's team. Draymond Green has been waiting to take over for awhile now and I love that he's stepping up to take control. My only concern with him is when he tries to do everything himself and forces shots/passes when they aren't necessary. His points will come when he focuses on what he does best: defense, rebounding and going after every loose ball. I think the team learned a LOT from those first two games and I only see them getting better, faster and stronger. The chemistry and the effort are there--I think the coaches will iron out the skill set as time goes on. One of my favorite things?!?! The REBOUNDING! This team is back to Izzo ball--hard-nosed, tough and lots of heart.
**And a word to the media...please stop referring to us as "Sparty" (as in "and Sparty goes on a 10-2 run..."). We are the SPARTANS. "Sparty" is the name of the guy in the costume that frolicks along the sideline. Every MSU grad I know hates this. So stop it. Thanks!
2.) Missouri Tigers: My man, Phil Pressey, is BACK! I was slightly unsure about this season for this team with a new coach in Frank Haith. But their pre-season CBE Classic performance REALLY impressed me. Stifling defense and quick, skilled guards (veterans no less) really knocked their opponents back on their tails. It will be interesting to see what happens the rest of the season, but if that's how they start....I can't wait to see the finish.
3.) Syracuse Orange: I still love them....any team with a player named Fab Melo gets my vote. I just love the way they play--always tough, always physical and always with confidence. This season will be interesting to say the least--the Bernie Fine issue may or may not be distraction. I am still learning about the case--which is very different from the Penn State situation--and it's sad all around. But whatever the facts are, I pray they come out and justice is served the way it needs to be.
4.) Xavier Musketeers: I've been a fan of these guys for a long time as a friend (and former coworker) of mine is a Xavier grad. Once I started learning about them and watching them play, I jumped on the bandwagon. Gongaza and Butler get a lot of credit for re-defining a "mid-major" but I think X should as well. They consistently schedule tough non-conference games, they consistently win their conference and they always make a strong showing in the NCAA tourney. This particular team seems to have all the pieces--low post presence in seven-footer Kenny Frease, fantastic guard play from Mark Lyons, some young, fresh players that can provide a spark, and of course, a Player of the Year candidate in Tu Holloway. They have my favorite combination of vets and youth and a balanced attack. Their non-conference schedule is tough, as per usual, which should serve them well come tournament time.
North Carolina Tar Heels: It's well-documented that I'm not a UNC fan, but I HAVE to respect their team. They have a ton of skill and frankly (though it hurts to admit it) I actually REALLY like Harrison Barnes. He's a fantastic player, but he also seems extremely humble and hard-working and just an all-around good kid.
Duke Blue Devils: See above. Same thing--I respect the heck out of Coach K. I think he's a class-act who's done it the right way start to finish and NEVER has compromised his standards to win. His team always plays hard and just plays good basketball, plain and simple. As a fan of the game, I'm usually going to tune in.
Almost the ENTIRE Big Ten: Say what you will, this conference is STACKED. Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Purdue are all tough, have great coaching and play hard every game. The conference season will be a rough one but I love the fact that there is so much competition.
Almost the Entire Big East: I randomly love this conference and really couldn't tell you why. Maybe because there are a lot of tough, physical teams, but I typically enjoy UConn, Georgetown, Pitt and Marquette...and of course, one of my favorites ever, Steve Lavin, even has me tuning in to St. John's.
There you have it! As you can see, I plan on watching a LOT of bball. I'm going to try and blog every day during this Big Ten/ACC Challenge...Enjoy the games!

Friday, September 30, 2011

For D-Roe

When Delvon Roe stepped onto the court for Michigan State 4 years ago, I’d already heard the hype. I’d heard he was injured his senior year of high school, so things might start slowly for him, but he was going to be big. Bigger than big. All of us were excited to how things would
unfold and no one was more excited than me.

After the graduation of Drew Neitzel, I needed a new “favorite” MSU player. Natually, I love all of them, but I always have one that rises slightly above the rest. The guy that wasn’t necessarily the star or top scorer, but the guy that (to me) embodied what a Spartan is all about: Heart, toughness, teamwork and a love of not just the game, but Michigan State. After hearing nothing but good things and as a former post player, I toyed with the idea of picking Roe for this coveted position (okay, not really “coveted”…but you get what I mean). And then my friend sent me a close-up picture of Roe’s Sparty tattoo. This guy was in it for life. And I was sold.

As the seasons past, it seemed like all I kept hearing was how Roe hurt his knee again—first his right, then his left, then his right….and on it went. I don’t remember many games where announcers weren’t talking about his latest surgery or procedure or what kind of brace he was wearing today. How he “wasn’t the player he was supposed to be for this Michigan State club.” No matter what happened, the poor kid couldn’t catch a break.

I also don’t remember ever hearing Roe complain. I don’t remember him sitting on the bench in street clothes or watching him on the court and thinking, “Wow, he looks hurt.”

What I DO remember is this: Delvon Roe never once—not ONCE—disappointed
me. I remember cheering for every rebound, every putback and every great pass he made. I remember how solid he was in every big game. I remember feeling like we, as
fans, could always count on him when we needed to. I remember thinking how unselfish he was with his teammates—and nothing illustrates this better than when he got undercut in
the Penn State game trying to get Draymond Green a triple-double. It was a nasty tackle, more likely to be found on a football field than a basketball court, and the kid jumped up, ran
over to Green and asked, “Did you get it?” I remember feeling better whenever he was on the floor.

I read the news of his retirement with a broken heart. Selfishly, I will miss his contributions on the court. Spartan basketball needs him. WE need him. But after reading his quotes and listening to pieces of the press conference, I find my heart breaks more for him. This is a young man with a love of the game, a love of his teammates and coaches and the rare awareness that what he has been able to do as a student-athlete makes him incredibly blessed. This is a young man who fought with everything he had against a body that betrayed him. This is a young man who put himself on the line daily to try and satisfy unknown faces in green and white just like me. This is a man that showed heart and toughness and teamwork and in doing so gave us Final Fours and Big Ten Championships. This is a man who showed what it truly means to be a Spartan.

So to Delvon Roe, I can only say THANK YOU. Thank you for your dedication, your heart, your passion and your love. Thank you for representing Spartan Nation with class and for teaching all of us what it means to be a student-athlete. Thank you, thank you,thank you. And most of all, thanks for that duck. ;)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Historic Moment!

Mark it down kids!

For the first time EVER, I'm breaking from my tradition of sporadic college basketball posts in order to comment on something that has bothered me for a long time.

That something is named LeBron James. Here's the thing--the guy fascinates me. I hate admitting that, but it's true. Maybe it's because the media and fans pigeonhole athletes into certain categories--Good Guy, Bad Guy, Mr. Clutch, The Player that CAN'T come through in a clutch, etc. In my eyes, LeBron doesn't quite fit into his assigned category--World's Greatest. I watch him and read about him (not religiously, but more than I probably should) because I just can't figure it out--SOMETHING here isn't right. I don't think that is his category, but up until now, I couldn't have told you WHY. But as I was watching the Bulls-Heat game last night, something finally clicked. I got it. And now I feel compelled to write my thoughts for anyone willing to read them.

Let me begin by explaining a little bit about myself.

I fell in love with the game of basketball at a young age. As a child of the 90s growing up in suburban Chicago, I watched the Bulls winning championships almost the ENTIRE TIME. I mean, literally from 1st grade until my freshman year of high school, the Bulls won all but 2 years.

Watching the Bulls' game wasn't a special event--it was just what we did. The NBA Finals were a family event. I can still vividly remember sitting in my aunt and uncle's living room watching John Paxson hit a game-clinching 3 against Phoenix and my mother jumping off the couch screaming, "IN YOUR FACE PHOENIX!" (To this day I wish I had a video of that moment. It was pretty epic.)

The day after the Bulls' won, my dad would take us to the store to get his "official" Bulls locker room hat and all of us the "official" locker room t-shirt. And for the record, we would ONLY accept the shirt the actual team wore in the locker room while dousing themselves in champagne. If the store we went to didn't have it, we went somewhere else.

To me, that team was the epitome of what sports was about. Phil Jackson was the ultimate coach, each player had their role and everyone worked together in a beautiful display of sports. And in that display, Michael Jordan was front and center--the ultimate basketball player. As long as Michael was there to lead them, it was okay. Even if they lost, you knew that Jordan had done everything possible to change that outcome. He would die on the court before he ever gave up a win.

As a naive little 7 or 10 or 13 year old, my perspective was a bit different back then. Now I know that Jordan wasn't perfect--he was, in fact, human and he was, in fact, at times a stereotypical celebrity. He fought with his teammates, he had internal struggles and sometimes made life choices that were a little scandalous.

But regardless of how my perspective of Michael Jordan as a person has changed, my perspective of Michael Jordan, the Greatest Basketball Player of All Time, has not. He is still a killer. He still wanted to win above all else.

The passion and excitement of Michael Jordan and the Bulls stayed with me my whole life. Watching the game's greatest player gave me an appreciation for the beauty of basketball. As a player myself, I came to appreciate it even more and appreciate athletes who had the abilities to play at a collegiate and professional level. It's a special game. It takes skill, endurance, teamwork, speed and dedication in order to succeed. Although I didn't invent it and certainly didn't change it in any way, I feel as though it's "my" game. I share it with thousands of people, but I feel as though I have a tiny, tiny piece of ownership. It's special. It should be honored. And respected. It's part of my duty to try and protect it.

Which brings me to Mr. James.

When he first burst into the national spotlight, I remember hearing about how he would be the next Jordan, how he would change the game, how amazing he was. Naturally, it piqued my interest because my Chicago-bias believes there will NEVER be another Jordan. The closest I thought we'd ever get was Kobe Bryant and as great as he is, I still think he falls just short.
Before this past season, I never had anything against James. I actually used to really like him--he seemed nice and pretty funny, he was a great player and he clearly loved playing the game. At first, sure, he wasn't winning rings, but that would come as he grew up and got experience.

And then his contract was up and the speculation which began years before increased 100 fold.

By the night of "The Decision" I was pretty sick of the whole thing...but the entire concept of having your own show to announce where you'd be going and the entire way it was handled just infuriated me. That, for me, was the deal-breaker. I lost all respect.

Let me be clear--I had no interest in where he chose to go. Most of us understand that the NBA is a business and essentially, James was looking for a better job. That happens all the time and there's nothing wrong with it. What I had a problem with was the fact that it was handled it so poorly.

Having your OWN SHOW to announce what team you'll be joining? Referring to yourself in the THIRD PERSON? For this girl, that says one thing: "I am so amazing and important that I command you all to watch what I'm doing. I am what makes the NBA and basketball great. It matters SO MUCH what I do that it should be a national event." Translated: "I am bigger than the game." I'm sure this surprises no one when I say for me, that is the ultimate basketball sin. I have zero tolerance for ANYONE who thinks their legacy surpasses that of the sport.

But it gets better! The Heat follow that debacle by throwing a party BEFORE THE SEASON with James, Wade and Bosh promising to win 7 championships...I mean, really? REALLY?!?! Why not just put a big sign on your back that says, "Please, Kick My A**"?!?!

So of course, pretty much the entire sports world is rooting for them to fail. As they should. These guys came together and in throwing that celebration essentially gave every single NBA team and non-Heat fan the middle finger. As the season progressed and the Heat struggled through games, Wade and Bosh and James made comments whining about how unfair it is that nobody likes them. Um, what did you THINK would happen? If you're THAT arrogant, everyone is going to salivate at the idea of taking you down.

And last night, as I was watching the Bulls-Heat game, I watched the Bulls scrap and claw and fight and bring energy and toughness and PASSION to the floor. I can tell when Derrick Rose decides, "we need this, I'm finding a way to score." They play with a sense of urgency that speaks volumes. The Bulls want to win. That's all it's about.

I don't see that in Miami. During the first half, James ran down court, pulled up and hit a 3. He held his follow-through for just a split second as he backpedaled down the floor and something in me clicked. I finally got it. LeBron James doesn't really care about winning. He just wants you to know how good he is. He wants to make dynamic plays that air on Sports Center and give bursts of energy that make you go, "DID HE JUST DO THAT?!?!" He knows that inevitably, his talent will lead to wins and since he paired himself with Wade, his odds increase. He can share the pressure and maybe get a ring, because if he gets a ring, then people will REALLY know how good he is. Because he's REALLY GOOD. And everyone should go see how good he is.
Lebron was a puzzle because he was categorized with Jordan, Bryant and Magic, but he doesn't belong there. I think we all figured that out long ago--but I couldn't put my finger on exactly WHY until last night. To be fair, he didn't ask to be put there. But his arrogant antics prove that he feels as though he's a cut above the rest.

So as the Bulls take on the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, I, of course, am not only rooting for the Bulls to win, but I am ALSO rooting for the Heat to fail. And yes, that sounds heartless, but the only reason I feel that way is because I want him brought back to reality. I want James humbled by the very game he's disrespected.

And I would love nothing more than if the team that made me feel this passion for basketball could be the ones to bring him back to earth.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Quick Tourney Thoughts

After this first week, there have been some GREAT games, buzzer beaters, ups and downs and surprises. Here's a few thoughts...


1.) The West Region: After two rounds (and the play-in), this is the ONLY region in my bracket that is 100% perfect, including picking Arizona over Texas, which I'm feeling rather smug about. ;)

2.) Picking George Mason over Villanova (sorry Wildcats, but dropping the majority of your last few games was NOT convincing for me)

3.) Picking Richmond over Vanderbilt (The Spiders were hot, Vandy typically doesn't fair very well in the tourney)

4.) Picking VCU over USC, even though it didn't count in my bracket.

5.) My Final Four teams are still alive! As I've learned from past years, this is crucial.

THINGS THAT MAKE ME LOOK LIKE I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT: (unsurprisingly, there are WAY more of these...)

1.) The Big East: It looks like I picked the wrong side (aside from UConn, thank goodness) of which teams would win/lose: I had St. John's, West Virginia and Louisville in my Sweet 16, Syracuse and Notre Dame in my Elite Eight, Marquette losing in the first round and Pitt--Well, Pitt is SO special they get their own number.

2.) PITTSBURGH: Okay, here's my deal. I like Pitt. Always have. I respect Jamie Dixon, I think they have tough players, they crash the boards, they're physical and they always play hard--in short, my favorite kind of team. However, from watching them play the last several tournaments, they've never made it past the Sweet 16. Because of that, I didn't WANT to put them past my Sweet 16 this year. But I looked at the bracket and said, "this road is DESIGNED for them to get to the Elite 8. It just is....I REALLY don't want to do this, but I don't see any other way." Yup, should have knocked them out. CURSE YOU PITTSBURGH!

3.) I underestimated both the Jimmer and Butler. I had BYU losing to St. John's and Butler out against Old Dominion. While the BYU choice was pure ignorance, the Butler choice was sheer bitterness. And yes, I AM in fact referring to last year's Final Four. I knew Butler struggled through most of the season and hit their stride toward the end--yet I chose to ignore this key fact. I let my emotions cloud my better judgement--emotions that have less to do with the actual team and more to do with my experience at the Final Four last year.

(Allow me a tangent to explain: when I go to games as a fan of my school, decked out in my MSU gear, I am NOT a trash-talker. I don't ever want people to walk away from me thinking anything negative about MSU fans. That's not to say I don't get fired up and cheer or yell at the refs on occasion if I think there's a bad call, but I keep it to my own team and I DON'T make derogatory comments about other schools or players. On the whole, I've always had positive experiences with most fan bases. The ribbing is always good-natured and at the end of the game everyone goes on their merry way. There are always obnoxious fans at every school, even MSU, but 99% of the time, I don't come away with a negative feeling....except Butler fans. I have been to 3 Final Fours and almost every Big Ten stadium or arena for football or basketball. I have NEVER, EVER experienced the rudeness and classless behavior my friends and I received from Butler fans...and it wasn't one or two. It was most of them. As such, I no longer root for Butler as "the underdog.")


~Does it seem to anyone else there have been a LOT of these first games that have come right down to the wire? I don't remember the last time there were this many close games--say it's parity, say it's mediocrity, who cares!?! The first weekend was AWESOME.

~Does it also seem that the refs across the board are determined "to officiate until the end of games" after the Big East tourney debacle? The Pitt-Butler game, the MSU-UCLA game, Texas-Arizona, Kansas St.-Wisconsin to name a few all had HUGE calls at the end that essentially decided the outcome. I almost feel bad for them--they call something and everyone thinks they should have swallowed their whistles, they don't call something and everyone asks "How can they not call that?!?!" Yikes. REALLY glad I'm not a referee...I'm starting to think they may be under more pressure than the teams.

~I shouldn't admit this, but I was REALLY impressed with the fact that Michigan took Duke right down to the wire. When Duke was up 10 with about 6 or so minutes left, I thought they would FOR SURE put Michigan away with ease...not so! They fought back hard and came so close to a major upset. The Wolverines are a young group and an experience like that is HUGE for next year. Call me crazy, but I think they actually have a shot at winning the Big Ten next season. Yikes!

~I can't help it, but watching senior players hit the bench in tears gets me EVERY TIME. At the end of the day, I'm a huge softie and seeing guys like Curtis Kelly, Jacob Pullen, Kalin Lucas and Mike Davis unable to control their emotions over playing their final game absolutely breaks my heart. After hearing all the negative things about how players don't care, that they only see college as a step to the NBA, etc., it's just so endearing (and awesome) to see how much they REALLY DO care.

And now, your turn--I want to hear about YOUR favorite moments from the weekend!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

2010-2011 All WIGS team

It's that time again folks! Again, as always, my All-Wigs team is not necessarily the "best" players--just my favorites from this year and I only pick from teams that I've been able to watch several times over the course of the season. Feel free to let me know who YOUR faves are...Enjoy!

This kid is ridiculous. He's often the smallest guy on the floor--but his quickness and toughness render that irrelevant. He drives hard to the basket and no matter who is around him, when a shot goes up, he's fighting for the ball. He's the most experienced guy on his team and in late-game situations, he's clearly the player who's going to take the big shot...and he MAKES it. Step back fadeaway at the buzzer to beat Pitt, anyone?

My love of Pressey is well-documented. He's young, gutsy, can shoot from the parking lot and has a ton of potential to develop in to a huge star for the Tigers.

Show me a player that's tougher than this guy. He plays hard, he plays hurt and loves to defend. Roe has been my favorite MSU player since he was a freshman and I don't care what anyone says about how he "hasn't played to his potential." He hasn't had a healthy season in 3 years. Still, he bangs on the boards, goes up strong and is always willing to sacrifice his body to make a play. When Draymond Green was going for his triple-double against Penn State, Roe was undercut and STILL made the shot. When he got up, the first thing he did was ask Green if he got the triple-double. Love it! But then, I wouldn't expect any less from a kid who walked into the Breslin with a giant tattoo of Sparty's face on his arm.

As an opposing fan, I cringe every time he touches the ball. As a college basketball fan, I love every time he touches the ball. He's just a pure shooter and to me, that's fun to watch.

This guy is so important to his team, it's unreal. Without him, they never would have beaten Ohio State and when he struggles, the Badgers do too. He's strong and skilled and embodies what it means to be a Bo Ryan team...always underrated to start the year, plays tough, doesn't turn it over, locks down on defense and by the end of the season, EVERYONE knows his name.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: JaJuan Johnson, Purdue; Derrick Williams, Arizona

Friday, March 4, 2011

A True Spartan...

Check out this link of a 5 year old Spartan after Senior Night.


I think a lot of us feel that way little man! (And don't worry, Draymond Green will be back!)


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I think my loyalty might be the Kiss of Death...

It sounds silly, but I'm at the point where I'm afraid to pledge my allegiance to college basketball teams. It seems like every time I say to someone, "Yeah! I really like that team..." bad things happen. To explain further, let's examine my favorite teams and see what's happening...

Michigan State: No explanation needed.

Syracuse: My love of them has been well-documented for the last few years. And what happens? Last year they were my pick to go all the way (and just in case you are wondering, I NEVER pick MSU to go all the way because I am afraid of jinxing them--they can bust my bracket any day)--and they lost in the Sweet 16. This season they started strong and have been in a roller coaster of success and decline.

Villanova: One of my all-time favorites thanks to Jay Wright (major class act and best-dressed coach in the game) and the guards they've had over the last few years...They've lost 5 of their last 6 I think? Bad news.

Georgetown: On a roll, feeling hot...and Chris Wright breaks his hand.

Missouri: My new friend Phil Pressey steals my heart...then the Tigers go on a losing streak to K-State and Nebraska, with Kansas looming.

Of course, the easy solution (one might say) is to cheer for teams I DON'T like and hope for the best....but I'm pretty sure that would backfire, as it would be evident my heart isn't in it. Here's hoping things turn around in the tournament...otherwise, beware of my butt jumping on your bandwagon!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Where did the Glory Years go?

I think I jinxed MSU with my last post about how many positives I saw in the Minnesota game. The MSU-Purdue game started rather well--State kept it close and fought back after a couple of runs and then in the second half, it all went downhill. It was disappointing for sure, but I have to say, the team's performance isn't what bothered me the most.

The toughest pill to swallow is the fact that a team walked into OUR HOME COURT and won by 20. That should never, EVER happen. And it should especially never happen at Michigan State. Granted, Purdue is a great team. I don't think anyone disputes that. But what also became apparent yesterday is that our home court advantage has all but disappeared. And that, my friends, falls on the fans.

For as long as I can remember, the Breslin Center has been described as one of the toughest places to play and the Izzone has been one of the best student sections around. I'm not sure either deserves that label anymore. There were a few times this year when the section was on its game--the wins over Wisconsin and Illinois probably wouldn't have happened without the fans willing the team to victory. But for a lot of the season, I've watched games at other arenas--Purdue, Wisconsin, Duke--and thought "Breslin isn't like that anymore."

It's painful to write that. I was an Izzone member for 4 years and consider it one of the most amazing privileges I had as a student--but that's what being a member of the Izzone is. A PRIVILEGE.

Yesterday, I saw empty seats in the general stands--lots of empty seats. I rarely see members of the Izzone jumping up and down during games and it seems like people are more inclined to be on their phones while the band plays the fight song. Overall, suffice it to say the general energy during yesterday's game was lacking...and it was embarassing. That crowd should have been WILLING those guys back into the game. They should have been clapping and cheering and giving that team every ounce of their energy to show that they believed in them. They should have spent their afternoon protecting their own house and showing Purdue why all those banners hang from the rafters. Those fans should have filed out at the end of the game as drained as if THEY had been running the length of the court. Instead, they faded down the stretch of the second half along with the team. I know that as MSU fans we've all been spoiled over the last few years what with all the Big Ten championships and Final Fours--but that shouldn't give us a sense of entitlement.

And look, I get it--it's been a rough season. I've been as disappointed and as critical as anyone. I understand feeling like there was a lack of effort from the team or just flat-out not liking when your team loses big. But the last few games have been such a step in the right direction--I would hate to see it all be for nothing.

I think it's evident that as a team, the guys have their heads down--I'm going to go out on a limb and say THEY probably don't enjoy losing either. They've been putting in extra practice, answering the questions, trying to find a solution. And now, they need US.

It's easy to be a fan when your team is on top. It doesn't take much to smile and nod when the analysts on CBS, ESPN and the Big Ten Network talk about what a great team Michigan State is and how Tom Izzo is the greatest coach alive. The test comes when things get tough--that's when the fans are most important. It's our job to give them the confidence to know they can win.

The road to the NCAA tournament has been filled with potholes---but there are still a few miles to go. Let's see if we, as fans, can give our team's engine a little more power. Wednesday is the last home game--i.e. the final game for Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers. It's a game against "lowly" Iowa--but I want to see the fans act like it's a game to seal the Big Ten title. I want to see the Izzone be louder than it's ever been. I want all those fans in Breslin and beyond to show our seniors how much we appreciate them and the memories they've given us--in good times and in bad. I want every player on that court to know that Spartans stand together no matter what the scoreboard may say. I want the Izzone to rock the way it used to.

I'll be watching from Chicago--I hope I can hear the fans all the way from EL.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It wasn't pretty, but they got it done...

Greetings fellow bball lovers!

Being a Spartan fan is always a rollercoaster ride--the joy, the frustration, the heart conditions...and of course, this men's basketball season is no exception.

The past few games have been a perfect example--there was the crushing of Penn State, the close loss to Ohio State, a solid but hard-fought victory over Illinois and of course, last night's squeaker at Minnesota.

What baffles me is the consistency of their inconsistency, but part of me doesn't really care--as long as they find a way to get it done. I don't know it's if the improved health of Kalin Lucas, the emerging of the bench/freshmen or the sense of urgency that comes from the realization that they might not make the tournament, but overall, I finally see the desire to WIN. There were many times over the past couple of months I doubted it was still there, but lo and behold, apparently it was still bubbling (no pun intended-ha!) under the surface. THANK GOODNESS.

So let's start with some positives...

1.) Kalin Lucas: Ladies and Gentlemen, he's BACK--and not a moment too soon. In the games against Illinois and Minnesota, he's pretty much put the team on his back and kept them in the game. One of the anchors on SportsCenter made a comment that the Spartans are "a one man team." I don't necessarily agree with that 100%, but it does give me some comfort that when MSU is struggling offensively, he puts the ball in his hands and finds a way to score. I think it also helps the other guys--when defenses key on Lucas, it opens up more for them to find shots or crash the boards for those all-important offensive rebounds.

2.) Draymond Green has gone back to basics. As the Spartans have struggled this season, I felt like Green has tried to do too much. His heart is in the right place, but his head was WAY too in the game. Green made his name because he does all the little things--passing, rebounding, grabbing loose balls, being a vocal leader for the team. Because he did those things, his opportunities to score naturally arose. However, when the team was struggling, all that went out the window because he wanted to do it all--but when he does that it doesn't work. After the Penn State game (TRIPLE-DOUBLE!), he said the coaches had put together a reel that reminded him of why he is successful--being the Glue Guy. I think it's safe to say that with the exception of the occasional ill-advised 3 (and not every 3 he takes is ill-advised), the message came through.

3.) Bench contributions. I wonder if Mike Kebler and Austin Thornton ever expected this kind of weight on their shoulders late in the season. At first, it seemed like they may have been a little intimidated, or at least thrown off, by their role as major contributors. Regardless of that shaky start, it seems like they're getting more and more comfortable with it. And God bless Kebler for hitting those 2 free throws last night to seal the win at Minnesota! Additionally, the development of the freshmen and post players makes me REALLY happy. Appling is showing how he will be a big-time player--he stays cool under pressure, plays great defense and is quick with the ball. Payne and Sherman are also showing some great toughness and footwork down low. Even Derrick Nix has been stepping up and making plays--LOVE!

4.) Delvon Roe is a champion. His injuries have been well-documented...I even propose that we create a new scale of pain called "The Roe Threshold." A normal person has a scale of 1-10 for pain threshold. For Roe, a normal person's 10 is like his 5. So anytime a player gets injured, we can compare it on The Roe Threshold...it's a way higher standard. For example, a player gets a leg cramp? On a normal scale, that's like a 3...on the Roe Threshold it would be a 0. And of course, the only 10 on The Roe Threshold is something akin to amputation without anesthesia. The kid has more heart than anyone else I've seen this season...though, I wouldn't expect much less from a kid that walked into MSU with a giant Sparty face tattooed on his arm.
Those are all great things, right? Correct. But here are a few brief things that still concern me...

1.) Durrell Summers. I wish I could get all irritated because the media has been harping on his struggles...but I can't. He's a great player and we need him. I'm glad he got some points last night, because he's clearly all in his head right now...he was even missing LAYUPS. Poor kid. Get it together Durrell! We need you!

2.) Reaction to the zone. For some reason, zone defenses seem to bamboozle my beloved Spartans. If teams want to force MSU to beat them from the 3, the shooting percentages right now suggest that's a great strategy. Furthermore, the offense was SO anemic last night that about 75% of the team was afraid to shoot the ball. Yikes. I have faith in the coaching staff on that one though. Here's hoping...

3.) TURNOVERS...definitely improving, but they are still a bit too sloppy with the ball. I'm beginning to think wanting that to change is wishful thinking, but...one of the best and worst things about being a Spartan is that we never lose hope...


Monday, February 21, 2011

By Popular Demand...

I've been told by a reader (I know, people actually read this--and he's not even related to me!) that I need to post more often. This is very true and I've really been slacking this year, so this week I launch an attempt to increase the frequency of my postings.

The first thing I want to address is the craziness of the #1 debate. Between last Sunday and this past Sunday, Kansas, Texas, Pitt and Ohio State all lost. So now everyone wants to know "who's #1?" My response: Who cares?

At this point in the season, it doesn't matter very much (to be fair, I've often said rankings never matter and I stand by that, but I digress). There are always lots of upsets in the final few weeks before conference tournaments. Teams have seen each other before, they've watched each other throughout the season, bubble teams are playing with more urgency in a last minute attempt to secure an NCAA tourney bid, everyone's tired, etc. Right now, despite what any coach or player says, the tournament is on the brain. I don't say that as a criticism--it's completely natural. In a little over a month, we'll know for sure who's #1...so I'm not going to waste time debating it.

In other news, where did St. John's come from?!? I absolutely love any time there is a resurgence of a program--Arizona, Indiana (which still has a way to go, but they are definitely improving), etc. I think it only makes the game more exciting when every game is competitive and every opponent has to be taken seriously. Let's be honest--so many of the great teams that are disliked (Duke, UNC, Kansas, Kentucky and dare I say, in the last few years, Michigan State) are disliked because they're always on top and frankly, people get sick of it. Steve Lavin has done a tremendous job with that group and I would hate to face them in the tourney. One thing I would love to ask him is how much of his experience as an analyst has helped him--or has it? The man has spent the past several years watching hours and hours of these top teams, coaches and players--how much of that knowledge makes a difference when he is preparing his team for a game? It may not matter at all, but the concept is fascinating to me.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"Border War" and other musings...


I figured I would crawl out of the Hole of Despair that is MSU basketball (blown out by IOWA?!? IOWA...REALLY!?! COME ON) and offer a few thoughts about something slightly more positive...and yes, I mean there were positives for BOTH Kansas and Mizzou.

I was actually looking forward to this game mostly because I haven't gotten a chance to see Missouri at all, thanks to most of their games being on ESPNU (I know, I know, I need to upgrade my cable.). It was hard to see them really winning at Allen Fieldhouse, but after watching the first half I really thought they had a fighting chance.

Mizzou crashed the boards hard from the opening tip (which was crucial) and showed a lot of patience on the offensive end--moving the ball, running their sets and taking good shots. Kansas made a couple of good runs throughout the half and you could see Mizzou panic a few times and start to force the ball, take quick shots and turn it over--and of course, KU ate that up. Each time though, the Tigers re-grouped, took a deep breath and came right back. They were able to make mistakes, shake them off and get back to doing what worked. It also helped that Kansas makes a LOT of stupid fouls. They do a lot of little chippy backcourt reach-ins or body bumps after a shot and one reason Mizzou kept it close because they got to the free throw line (they shot 81% for the game. 81%!!! Sigh. I miss the days when MSU shot that way). It's hard to see many weaknesses in this Jayhawk team, but that one may come back and bite them later.

The second half was a bit different. Kansas came out of the gate and made a huge run (with the help of the Morris brothers asserting themselves down low) and all of a sudden, the game was theirs. It was one of those "blink and they're up 10" situations. That was kind of bummer because Mizzou still shot really well and did a lot of great things...just not defensively.

This is stating the obvious, but KU is GOOD. They have that other gear that really good teams have where the other team is hanging around, hanging around and then all of a sudden, KU turns it on and goes up 15 within a couple of minutes and you're sitting there going, "Wait...how did that just happen?" They have a lot of weapons on both ends of the floor and the Morris brothers are pretty awesome (ugh, it kills me to say that...). Last year's team was supposed to win it all and it seems to me that this team might actually be better than last year.

That said, Mizzou impressed me. They play really hard, which of course, is to be expected of a Mike Anderson team. Additionally, they have a good mix of veteran and young talent, they have passion and they seem to really listen to their coaches. I only see good things for them in this last month before the tourney.

Which brings me to....PHIL PRESSEY! I think he might be my new favorite. The kid played hard, controlled the ball really well, hit 3s from the parking lot, and was TICKED when Mike Anderson took him out of the game. He wasn't disrespectful about it, but the look on his face was priceless. I have to say I love that passion--the "I don't need to rest, I will play all game because my being on the floor makes a difference" attitude. I like what I see and I'm hoping he sticks around to give me a few more years of joy and doesn't pull a Willie Warren where he makes a big splash his freshman year then falls off the radar (Oh, Willie, what happened to you...).

In other news, as amazing as KU fans are, it came to my attention that the "Rock Chalk Jayhawk" chant is kind of haunting...and by "haunting" I mean creepy. Really, really creepy.

Rivalry Week continues! Enjoy!

Friday, January 28, 2011

What a difference a month makes....

Well, friends, here I am.

Back from South America, back to watching ridiculous amounts of college hoops and....DEEEEPRESSED.

Anyone who has watched MSU hoops this season is asking the same question: WHAT IS GOING ON?!

I seriously don't get it. And the worst part is, I don't think anyone on the team gets it either.

They came into the season with high hopes, talking of national championships and Big Ten titles. At this point, State won't even be in the tourney.

I don't know what else to say except this is miserable. If it was a re-building year and we had lost a lot of seniors, then okay. But the roster has been decimated with attitude problems, discipline issues and transfers. Suddenly, our deep team is floundering to float in the shallow end.

I've made peace with the idea that this season is a bust. For the well-being of my mental health, it's come down to that. But deep down and not-so-secretly, I keep hoping for a breakthrough. I keep hoping that something, somewhere, finally clicks into place and they can make some kind of run and end up in the Sweet 16.

My expectations have been lowered, but I can't lose faith just yet.

I only hope the team feels the same.