Why Michigan St Plays for the Title

By Paul M. Banks

Heading into Saturday’s Final Four, much has been made of MSU’s home-court advantage in Detroit, but the “intangible” if you believe in such things as a deciding factor being slightly under-reported is the dark cloud of scandal hanging over the heads of the UConn program.

They may just fold up shop, like Indiana did down the stretch last season when the stench of Kelvin “Mr. Telephone Man” Sampson’s corruption sent the Hoosiers into a serious downfall.

The Spartans were not favored to beat Louisville, but the played lights-out defense and dominated the Cardinals down the stretch. I respect the talent of Hasheem Thabeet and A.J. Price, but I don’t think the team has enough left in the tank to overcome the maladaptive mental factors that will be plaguing them on the nation’s brightest stage.

I also think North Carolina will cruise in their semifinal, setting up a rematch of a VERY one-sided game held in December- at the very same venue. UNC utterly routed Sparty in a game that was even more lopsided than the box score indicates. Look for it to be much closer this time, especially since Izzo will have his Suton, as in Goran Suton for this match, and that makes a huge difference.

As Illinois Coach Bruce Weber articulated, the gist of Michigan State is…

“Suton is the key to them, he’s a fifth year senior, he’s strong, physical and really improved as a player. Their deep and they can keep coming at you with a lot of people, a lot of different weapons.”

Weber wasn’t able to solve Sparty during their two meetings this season and after the second loss, he spoke all about Kalin Lucas, the Big Ten player of the year, and the outside threat complementing Suton inside.

“He’s as quick a player as anyone in the country, it’s kind of back to the days when snow was there and Mateen Cleaves and he’s got ‘em running up and down. The big ten sometimes gets a knock for not running up and down and playing transition basketball but Michigan State to me has always been one of the best teams in the country as far as fast breaking.”

I asked him if the best player on conference champ Michigan St. Kalin Lucas reminded him of Dee Brown, his recent superstar point guard, being that both were usually the quickest guy in the court

“He does, from top of the key to top of the key, he gets there really quick, and it puts you in a bind, puts you on your heels, he might be quicker than Eric Snow or Mateen Cleaves, he seems like one of those little bugs that just flies down. And they work at it. Tom and I talk a lot of times about the league and the image, you know we all try to run, it’s just that in the league you get a great home court advantage, with the filled arenas, people guard in our league and they take things away because they prepare and they take away that transition.
I’m not saying Sparty will run the table in 8 Mile next weekend, but this team does share a lot of similarities to the 2000 National Title team.

-Both got better as the season went on, and had some embarrassing losses early. The title team lost to Wright St. in pre-conference, freaking Wright St. This team got thrashed by both Maryland and UNC early on. Both teams recovered to play their best ball when it mattered most

-Each of these teams possessed lot of versatility and were able to generate many different lineups from their wings and run those lineups effectively. This team can play different tempos when the situation calls for it and the title team displayed that in the Final Four, drubbing Wisconsin 53-41 in stall-ball before out-running Florida 89-76.

-Role players excel and provide critical lifts at opportune times. 2000: we had Aloysius Anagone, A.J. Granger, Mike Chappel, and Jason Richardson (remember he was mostly awful his freshman year, but became his star during his sophomore campaign. This season: Durrell Summers, Delvon Roe and Chris Allen have carried this unit at times.

-Each unit had balls bounce their way and survived scares to reach the b-ball promised land. The 2000 team’s victories over Marcus Fizer/Jamaal Tinsley’s Iowa St. team in the elite 8 was much closer than the final score. Ditto for the sweet 16 round versus Syracuse. Both Spartan teams were in deep trouble with under 5 minutes to go, but played out of their mind down the stretch.  This year’s team was quite fortunate to survive Arizona. Not to mention that both teams had Detroit as a portion of their Final 4 journey. The 2000 team played the second weekend at the Auburn Hills Palace while this team takes the court in Ford Field.