Oct. 15, 2016
Michigan State's 75-74 OT Win vs. Minnesota Saved Their Season
Death, taxes, and Michigan State basketball. That's how it has been for what feels like an eternity in East Lansing under Tom Izzo. Yes, Michigan State has only one national championship to show forth, but the Spartans have been a mainstay in basketball and in the tournament every year it seems. It always feels like Michigan State has at least a Sweet Sixteen appearance in them every year, even when some years the Spartans haven't been up to snuff. But last year was something else. Michigan State probably put out their best team since the Flintstones squad who took it all in 2000 and with a player like Denzel Valentine, who, had Michigan State won it all would go down in the same lore as Magic Johnson and Mateen Cleaves. It was supposed to be Michigan State's year.
And then Middle Tennessee took them out in the first round.
No national title, no anything. Just a "thank you for your time Denzel, Bryn Forbes, and Matt Costello." One of the greatest disappointments for any Michigan State fan in 2016....until the football season started, but that's another time for another day.
With the football team a mess, Spartan fans went back to their old ways of "well, basketball season is coming up and football is really to pass the time." And this year, the hope was high with a highly touted recruiting class coming into East Lansing, led by Miles Bridges. The other incoming freshmen were also supposed to be some of the tops in the nation such as Cassius Winston, Josh Langford, and Nick Ward. It would off-set the losses of Valentine, Forbes, and Costello as well as Deyonta Davis, who left early.
But one problem, the guys Michigan State lost were experienced guys and the young guys in would experience growing pains. To add on top, Michigan State has historically played one of the most vicious out-of-conference schedules in the nation. Every year, they have to face the likes of Kentucky, Kansas, or Duke (this year, they faced Kentucky & Duke), while also having to face an albeit fun, but tough game against a like of another top school like Arizona or North Carolina while playing in one of the traditional November tournaments where they faced off against another power (this year it was Baylor). Izzo, normally cool about it, blamed himself as the schedule was insane from going to Hawaii to play Arizona, then flying back to New York City to play Kentucky, then the Atlantis tournament, and then a road game in Durham against Duke. After all those messes, the Spartans faced off against the likes of Oral Roberts, Tennessee Tech, and Northeastern, all three teams not necessarily the likes of Duke, Kentucky, or Baylor, and the Spartans struggled. Worse, Bridges, whom many think will come out of college after one year for the NBA, has been injured with a bad ankle. Michigan State finished 8-5 in out-of-conference play, not great heading into the Big Ten facing the likes of Wisconsin, Minnesota (who was off to a blistering start), and Maryland. And some wondered if this was the year the ends Michigan State's tournament run.
And the Spartans in the first half in Minnesota looked like they were going to be blown out after being down by 15 at one point and 13 at halftime to come back without Bridges, only hit 45% of their free throws, and were outrebounded in the game to beat a then 12-1 Minnesota team. Yes, the Gophers probably aren't the best team in the Big Ten, but they are VASTLY improved from last year. It is a game like this however, for Michigan State that can ultimately change the whole season around. Bridges could be back in time for the conference home opener against Northwestern and Michigan State has a nice favorable start to the conference schedule (Northwestern, Rutgers, Penn State, and Minnesota again before they see Ohio State, Indiana, and Michigan). Granted, Northwestern is nothing to sneer at this year either, but if Bridges is back in that game and with all the momentum on Michigan State's side, it looks like the Spartans should fare out well.
Had Michigan State rolled over against Minnesota and lost, I am not sure if that would have ended the Spartans season, but it would have felt like the rest of the way for them would have been uphill climb just to even make a strong push in the tournament. It just seems like this is that year that Michigan State has gone into "rebuild" mode and aren't going to be taken seriously by many had the game turned out like the first half was. But instead, there is new life and if you're a Big Ten fan of the other schools, you do need to keep a close eye on the young guns in East Lansing.
But overall, if Michigan State holds their own and reclaims their spot in the Big Ten and win 12 games in the conference, they'll be back in March and in a big way. And if anything has shown us, March can give us some crazy moments. Michigan State is a great example.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat