By: Jamie Samuelsen
The easiest thing to do would be to wait until early April to decide which of the two local teams had the better season. But we don’t believe in taking the easy way out here at The Ticket. And besides, if we didn’t make rash, unsupported, indefensible statements – how would we even do sports radio in the first place?
So let’s try to determine NOW how Michigan and Michigan State will do in the NCAA Tournament understanding a few key points in this silly debate.
1) The draw in the NCAA Tournament absolutely matters. If giants are falling left and right in either region, things get a lot easier. Let’s not forget that MSU beat 9th-seeded Northern Iowa and 6th-seeded Tennessee to advance to the 2010 Final Four. Funny things happen in the Tournament, and it can turn a lousy season into a great season rather quickly.
2) Injuries matter too. The Spartans lost Branden Dawson in the final regular season game last year against Ohio State. Even though they won the Big 10 Tournament, MSU was clearly a different team in the NCAAs. Just the same, Michigan was a different team without Jordan Morgan down low. His presence Sunday in Ann Arbor could be a big factor in the Wolverines’ attempt to avenge the 75-52 loss in East Lansing earlier this month.
Both these teams could go on long runs. (Can you imagine this state if Michigan and MSU play in the Final 8 or later? It will make the Civil War seem like a pesky skirmish.) Both these teams could be ripe for an upset because it’s the NCAA’s, there’s parity, and both of these teams know what its like to be one-and-done in Round One.
But if I had to pick one team that I think has the stuff to go deeper, I’d have to go with Michigan State.
The first factor is simple – Tom Izzo. No disrespect to John Beilein who had nice long runs at West Virginia. But if you look up tournament tough in the dictionary, you’ll be looking for a long time, because such an entry doesn’t exist. But if there was, Izzo’s photo would be there right alongside Mike Krzyzewski. Izzo has a formula that not even he can explain about getting his team ready for the grind of tournament games. And this year, he has the players too. Which takes us to factor #2 – toughness.
Izzo has spent the last 48 hours breaking his team down and then building it back up again. It’s one of his neatest tricks. He can question his team’s toughness, but the moment that he thinks that the fans or (God forbid) the media is doing it – he recoils and lashes out. The fact is that this is a tough team. Question Keith Appling all you want, but Gary Harris is a bona fide stud. And Dawson, Adreian Payne and Denzel Valentine all seem to have the same trait that Izzo loves the most. It’s starts with a ‘B’ and rhymes with “Allz”. It has served them well so far this season and will serve them well in the post-season. Last year against Louisville, it looked like nobody other than Draymond Green wanted the ball. That won’t be the case this year.
Michigan has those same types of players, but they don’t seem as battle-tested as the Michigan State players. The only game this season that the Wolverines have really ‘toughed out’ was the overtime win against Ohio State. In the other close games, Michigan either woke up in the second half (Penn State) or found a way to lose (Wisconsin). That concerns me heading into the NCAAs where the last three or four (or five) games will most likely be tight.
The final factor is the three-pointer. Michigan fans are sick and tired of hearing it, but it remains a fact. Live by the three…or die by the three. Michigan has enough shooters with Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas. So if one of those guys goes cold, another can emerge. But the Spartans showed just how to shut down that offense back on February 12th, and other teams will be taking notes off those game films.
Both these teams are formidable. Both can make runs. And I must admit that I expect Michigan to win the rematch this Sunday. But come tourney time, the most successful teams have certain characteristics and a certain look – and Michigan State is that team to me, more than Michigan.