Midwest Swing: Final Horn

lucas oil stadium

By Paul M. Banks

CHICAGO- 2010 has been perhaps the most exciting NCAA Tournament in recent memory. This March Madness is yet another example of why the college hoops postseason is the best postseason around. It doesn’t need fixing; college football’s pathetic excuse for a postseason does.

The run up to this Final Four featured comebacks, upsets and many incredibly close games.  And the title game may have been the grandest of all!

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Midwest Swing: Title Game Edition

Midwest swing

By Paul M. Banks

INDIANAPOLIS- Signs inside, outside and all over downtown Indy read “the road ends here.” Indeed it did, my four venue, three city college basketball tour ended on this night. As did the championship aspirations of the 64th and final team. I literally teared up as Duke cut down the nets and hoisted the championship trophy because for me, the “Midwest Swing” that began nearly a month ago in Indy, ends in Indy. I came full circle in the “circle city.”

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Midwest Swing: Final Four Edition

butler blue 2

By Paul M. Banks

INDIANAPOLIS- The brightest lights and the biggest stars come for college basketball’s biggest stage. But the biggest and best photo opp? Blue II, Butler’s bulldog mascot. He came into the media room and everyone swooned over him. He’s adorable! And the paparazzi were hounding him like 12 year old girls swooning over the Jonas Brothers. And by everyone I include media members, who all wanted their photo with the little bulldog.

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NCAA Title Game Preview

lucas oil stadium

By Paul M. Banks

INDIANAPOLIS- 2010 has been perhaps the most exciting NCAA Tournament in recent memory. This March madness is yet another example of why the college hoops postseason is the best postseason around. It doesn’t need fixing; college football’s pathetic excuse for a postseason does.

The run up to this Final Four featured comebacks, upsets, and many incredibly close games.  And will the title game be the grandest of all? Will we, to quote Vanessa Williams, “save the best for last?” Probably not. These are definitely two good teams, but don’t be surprised if Duke wins by 15+

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Midwest Swing Elite 8 Edition

Michigan State Dance team

Paul M. Banks

ST LOUIS-I got one of the best compliments ever following the taking of the picture you see above. Some random dude said something that made me think, “this must be what Justin Timberlake feels like every day.”

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Bruce Weber’s International Incident

weber

By Paul M. Banks

If you’ve ever seen University of Illinois Men’s basketball Head Coach Bruce Weber on television, you might notice what a happy-go-lucky guy he appears to be. In person, he’s just the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. One might even call him “cuddly.” That’s why I was shocked to learn that someone might actually treat him like a potentially dangerous criminal or terrorist.

There were numerous complaints about Detroit being the 2009 Final Four’s host city. Prepare to add another one to the list. During the final weekend of March Madness, the coaches stayed across the border in Windsor, Ontario. This led to international intrigue and authorities singling out Weber, a man who recently signed an extension (with a 50% pay raise) to coach at Illinois until 2015.

“Coach Keady’s wife passed away, and Matt Painter and I were his assistants; so with his wife’s illness, we had to run the practices. We had to go back and forth to Windsor. A couple of times it took two hours to get through the tunnel from Canada back to Detroit. You’re talking just three miles, but it took forever. And one day we got stopped and pulled over, and they had to check out our car. We laughed and it took a while, but then one guy came out and said: ‘Well, I’m a Michigan fan, that’s why we pulled you over, and we can make a commercial out of it,’ and we laughed.” Weber said this during the recent National Association of Basketball Coaches’ “Court of Honor” Gala in Chicago.

So there’s yet another reason (sort of) to hate Michigan Wolverines fans: a real life version of the Jordan brand advertisement that we all saw during March Madness.

However, this was not the only time the authorities decided to mess with Bruce.

“And then the next day we got pulled over, again. This time I was by myself, and I said to the guys, ‘What is going on?’ And they said, ‘Well you got a rental car, and you’re going back and forth.’ Because we have practices and meetings. It was a little bit of a hassle at the time, but I guess it’s good they’re trying to protect our country.”

It’s good to hear Weber maintain his jolly demeanor; even as he encountered some of the most annoying situations possible.

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.

Michigan State Now Midwest’s Premier Program

By Paul M. Banks

Before it was an environmental clarion call spouted by business and government leaders everywhere, the phrase “go green” was the Michigan State Spartans’ battle cry.

For those lucky enough to be in Detroit this weekend (Yes, it’s weird describing Detroit as a coveted destination) you’ll hear lots of “go green” and “go white” as MSU becomes the first team to play in the Final Four in their home state since Duke laced them up in Charlotte in 1994. When Tom “H to tha” Izzo brings his Spartans to Ford Field, a venue 92 miles from their campus, his resume will include 11 straight NCAA appearances, 5 Final Fours in those 11 years, a National Championship in 2000 and a 30-10 overall tournament record. With the recent collapse of the Indiana Hoosier program, Sparty has become the Big Ten’s (and the Midwest in general) finest program. No other team from the heartland is a March Madness fixture like the Spartans, with Izzo preparing each and every one of his recruited four-year players for Final Four glory. But this success is a more recent phenomenon.

State wasn’t admitted into the Big Ten until 1995 and the nation didn’t really “Meet the Spartans” until the Jud Heathcote era (1976-1995). They weren’t considered a power until the 1979 National championship- when Magic Johnson, Greg Kelser and company defeated Larry Bird’s Indiana St. team in the highest watched game in college history. This established East Lansing as a haven for stellar guard play. The list includes Steve Smith, Scott Skiles, Eric Snow, Shawn Respert, Mateen Cleaves, Charlie Bell, Jason Richardson, Shannon Brown, Drew Neitzel and current Big Ten player of the year Kalin Lucas. Lucas spoke about his conversations with Mateen Cleaves, the floor general on the last Spartan championship team. “Mateen tells me this is my team and I have to be the general, I have to run the team, I have to give guys shots, but I also have to get my shots,” Lucas said.

The hard-line Izzo leads teams that get better as the season progresses and excel in rebounding (currently first nationally) and defense. “Defense can be measured in a lot of ways: points allowed, opposing field goal percentage, but it’s almost like what Jay Bilas says about heart, you measure it when things are on the line. And I thought down the stretch our defense is getting better, it’s been pretty solid when we’ve had the right lineups in there,” Izzo said