By: Mike McCann
Ray Lewis has captivated America for close to a month now. He’s been on your television, he’s been on your radio, and he’s been on the front page of your newspaper. Lewis’s Baltimore Ravens are close to completing an improbable run, capturing the franchise’s second Super Bowl championship, with Lewis leading the way with his magic. He passed some of that magic along to his (sort of) alma mater last night, as Miami hoops made Duke look like the Flint Tropics (before they traded for Clarence/Coffee Black/whatever other names Andre Benjamin’s character had).
Those characters are of course fictional, and despite the way many people seem to behave on it, twitter is not. One tweet I saw last night, though, was completely accurate and rational. When referring to Miami’s drubbing of the Dukies, Mike Valenti tweeted “Win/Win for the mitten. Blue gets No. 1 and MSU resume gets big boost. Thank “U” double dip.”
Mike is right. Michigan State played one of their worst games of the year down on South Beach earlier this year. Nobody really played well and Tom Izzo decided that he was going to give the Adreian Payne/Derrick Nix duo a break for a while, doing his best to keep one on the bench while the other was on the floor, until recently. But since then, the Spartans have figured it out, and won thirteen of their last fourteen games, as they go into Bloomington this Sunday, likely playing for a spot in the top ten. Three weeks after that horrible loss and the panic that followed, the Spartans are sitting pretty, perhaps playing the best ball in the Big Ten.
The other team that Miami helped last night is Meee-chigan. Unlike the Spartans, the Wolverines haven’t hiccupped this year. They played a bad first half in Columbus, and ended up losing the game, but they had their chance to win that one. They rolled Minnesota on the road, but unfortunately the Golden Gophers are sinking faster than the Titanic right now. The way Minnesota is playing doesn’t help the Spartans, as they did not look good at The Barn, en route to a loss. But the way the Spartans are playing, it’s not going to make any difference.
So the Maize and Blue are seemingly two games away from their first number one ranking since those fabulous five freshmen donned those black socks and baggy shorts all the way to the top. If only it were that easy. If you look at the schedule, you grin, and probably think Michigan will be number one at the end of the week. They very well could be. Purdue and Illinois are down right now. The Illini were in the top ten what seems like yesterday, and are now unranked. But I expect these two teams to challenge Michigan.
Purdue handed the Wolverines their only loss at Crisler a year ago. Sure, they had the Big Ten’s version of FDR in Robbie Hummel, who has since finally moved on from the conference. But that game was not close. The Boilers won it 75-61, and when you win by two touchdowns in Ann Arbor, it’s a big deal, no matter what the sport. This team is obviously different. Michigan is much better than it was a year ago, and Purdue is probably not as good as it was last year. All of that said, this is still a game the Wolverines must not take lightly.
I think the Wolverines beat Purdue tonight, yes. I think they beat them handedly. Sunday will be tough though, for both the Wolverines and Spartans. Both teams play in tough venues, ironically both named Assembly Hall. Michigan State’s game is probably tougher…Indiana is better than Illinois. But Michigan State isn’t playing for the number one ranking in the country. I’ve never played major college basketball, but I imagine those butterflies start flapping their wings a little harder when you know you’re playing for the top spot. It certainly looked like that a few weeks ago in Columbus. Brandon Paul is a star for Illinois. He’ll be tough to stop, particularly at home, where he plays his best. He scored forty-three against Ohio State a year ago in front of the Orange Krush. He can go off at any time, and he’s the key for the Wolverines. You stop him, you probably win.
Having not attended either Michigan State or Michigan, I get the luxury of rooting for both. Hopefully if you root for only one, you can see the benefit of both winning this weekend. I’ve done some research, and I can find no record of the Spartans and Wolverines ever being in the top ten at the same time…ever. What an opportunity. We have never seen Michigan and Michigan State play this kind of basketball simultaneously. In my opinion, they are the two best in the Big Ten, right now. Recognize that and enjoy it, because while it seems the two teams will both be good for some time, you never know.
Of course the best part about this is none of it really matters, unless you count bragging rights. Michigan was very good last year, but did nothing in the tournament. The Spartans have seemed very average in recent years, and wound up in the Elite Eight. That’s the beauty of college basketball in March. There is nothing like it in sports. Even Ray Lewis can’t match that magic.