In a tone so emphatic it borders on crazy, WXYT's Mike Valenti set the bar high on anti-Spartans basketball sentiments following Michigan State's drubbing last Thursday's at the hands of the lowly Iowa Hawkeyes:
"What this is about is disrespecting the brand that came before you, disrespecting the brand that has taken this coach, the greatest coach in school history, which has taken him 14 years to build it up, and this group of...hacks...spit all over it."
As a Michigan State alum, Valenti is sort of allowed to talk like that, and it was actually met with some applause on Spartan basketball boards.
Following the rant, these other defeatist attitude posts began popping up on green and white message boards:
First, fans got real...
Then, they got funny...
Then on to other, more pressing matters...
We frequently bash loud-mouth local radio guy, and "Legend Status" forum poster supplemented by a weird avatar guy, but as ardent fans of a program so elite and successful as Michigan State basketball, this season's fall from the top has been as difficult to swallow as braised tripe. And it leaves us no choice but to declare this Spartans team as one of the most disappointing college basketball teams in recent memory.
I'm not trolling here; Would you like some simple proof? Michigan State's win on Thursday against Penn State was just the Spartans' second victory in their last seven games. The Spartans, currently 14-10 (6-6 in the Big 10), have reached the point where they've sparked talk that they won't be one of the 68 teams called on Selection Sunday. This could be the first time since the tournament expanded in 1985 when a team ranked in the top three to start the season did not make the tournament (side note: Kansas State began the season ranked No. 3 in the country. They're having an equally tough go of it in 2011.). BAH!!!
More to Valenti's point, we don't really need to thumb through the numbers as a means of understanding why everything has gone awry. So what if they're only a 43 percent shooting team? Or that they've gone from one of the most tenacious rebounding teams a season ago to one that has been out-rebounded against the likes of Penn State and Division II Chaminade? I'll also blow off the fact that Izzo is feeling so backed against a wall that he's willing to try employing a zone defense, despite that Spartan opponents are shooting almost 40 percent from beyond the arc. This is not a numbers thing, it's a no-heart-no-leadership thing.
The how and why this team unraveled occurred almost entirely behind closed doors. Sure teams deal with potential coaching changes and DUIs and sexual assault allegations, but few teams ever deal with multiple potential coaching changes concurrently, and I've never heard of a college team earning a DUI and sexual assault allegations on the same night. Ever.
A few red flags went public. I'm guessing a few more never surfaced. So why didn't an offseason rife with drama not give the pundits more pause as to whether or not these kids -- players in their late teens and early 20s, and not grown men playing professionally -- could stay focused and motivated enough to return to the Final Four? We're learning that even a program perceived as invincible and a Sweet 16 mainstay is susceptible to quitting when faced with adversity.
Two seasons ago, Kalin Lucas was one of the most composed and gutsy sophomore point guards of his generation, leading an upstart Spartans club to the National Championship game when the city of Detroit and state of Michigan so desperately needed something to be proud of. Now he's a senior with baggage; putting up respectable numbers but getting called out by his head coach for providing no leadership and likely just waiting to get out of East Lansing and on with his life. One season ago, Korie Lucious was a viable option to handle the ball and score on the perimeter, highlighted by his buzzer-beating, game-winning three against Maryland in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Now he's looking for a new school, with a DUI to his name. Throw in an uninspired Durrell Summers, who from afar looks like my first pick for an All-Wasted-Talent team, and Delvon Roe who just hasn't been able to reach the potential placed upon him as a top 10 high school recruit, and you have a recipe for a disaster, a team Izzo can't even wave his March Magic wand at and nudge them back to the Final Four.
Now to the week that was...
Arizona – It’s not as though a regular season has been clinched, or a tournament berth has been secured, but are the Arizona Wildcats – dare I ask – back? Sitting atop the Pac 10 and led by a likely first-team All-American, Sean Miller is ahead of schedule in the revitalization of basketball in the desert. Sure the Wildcats go as Derrick Williams goes, but collectively these guys showed a ton of resolve over the weekend in a triple-overtime road victory against Cal, as sophomore guards Landry Jones and Kevin Parrom led the charge on offense.
White Hoosiers that can jump – With no Mo Creek since the middle of January, and no Christian Watford since last week, Tom Crean has had to rely on a good number of Caucasians to help stay afloat in the Big 10. So it’s been quite jaw-dropping to see these two OOOOOOHHHHH MY GOODNESS dunks go viral in just the past seven days, courtesy of Tom Pritchard and Will Sheehey. Seriously, these dunks are not only two of the best this season, but are courtesy of two of the most unsuspecting regular players in the game.
Knockout – It’s one of the few sporting activities where anyone can join, and anyone can conceivably be the last participant standing. Students at James Madison University, normally a setting for viral videos that have nothing to do with doing things sober (seriously, I would put this school’s spring weekend up against any in the country), put together the world’s largest knockout tournament, ousting a recently set record at George Washington University. The winner was a Dukes baseball player who was a starting guard while in high school.
Everything about Utah State’s student section – I’m a little late to this party, but I can’t pretend to be either out of the loop or unimpressed… the Utah State student section is awesome. Led by Wild Bill, the Aggies may have actually found a viable way to decrease the likelihood of a missed free-throw by an opponent, and sing in unison like a hoard of English Premier League soccer hooligans. If more student sections could adopt this philosophy that no undergraduate fan is greater than his/her peers, college basketball could find a way to thrive even as the talent pool becomes more and more shallow.
Deniz Kilicli – I crunched the numbers and the result was no real stark differences, but I swear this guy shines brighter in nationally televised games more than any player in the country. The "Istan Bull" as this Turkish native has been named, Kilicli looked like Hakeem Olajuwan the way he maneuvered his way around Pitt defenders in Monday’s Backyard Brawl. Kilicli finished with a season high, deftly scoring with baby hooks and up and unders. There are a lot of great bit and role players left from last year’s Mountaineer team that reached the Final Four – but they’re just that. With no real go-to player, Kilicli could become that guy down low that helps get West Virginia back to the NCAA Tournament.
Whoever picks the Cousy award semifinalists – I may be a Xavier homer, but there’s absolutely no way you can serve up a convincing argument that Tu Holloway is not one of the game’s best point guards. Same thing goes for Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor, too. What's even more perplexing about these egregious omissions can be found on CousyAward.com. There's 10 finalists, and five is a multiple of 10. This allows for an easy 5x2 arrangement, but the headshots below are arranged with a row of six and a row of four. That just looks weird, right? Perhaps the webmaster knows Holloway and Taylor are getting screwed, leaving a bit of space for them in case the selection committee comes to its senses.
Washington - In stark contrast to Arizona, the Huskies are going in the opposite direction of the Wildcats. Losers of their last three, these guys appear to get homesick -- they're 3-5 away from the BofA Arena.
Michelle Peralta - WIkipedia lists BYU's enrollment precisely at 26,928. I am thinking that all but one would volunteer to "get Jimmered," this winter, and her name is Michelle Peralta. She wrote a letter to the student newspaper and came off all "I hate sports, it doesn't matter." Tough life she lives, huh? Naturally, her haters got back at her on Facebook. See more at http://dreamcatchermedia.com/jimmered.
Curtis Kelly - Who is this guy? Kelly continues to make poor decisions and look foolish. After missing nine games for various infractions, he's still dipping his toes in to trouble. The Kansas City Star reports Kelly may have violated the Kansas State athletic department's substance abuse policy. Kelly is currently appealing that he did something wrong, but if that is not heard, he could be a goner - the third player to leave Frank Martin's club this season.
Centenary - Ohio State remains the country's lone undefeated squad, but you already knew that. The Gentlemen will see that unblemished record and raise the Buckeyes a hearty 25 losses. The only team without a W to date, Ken Pomeroy lists Maxx Nakwaasah as the team's lone major contributor - a severely futile effort as far as I'm concerned.
This Weekend's Games
- Syracuse @ Louisville (ESPN) noon
- Kentucky @ Vanderbilt (CBS) 1 p.m.
- Temple @ Dayton (ESPNU) 1 p.m.
- Ohio State @ Wisconsin (ESPN) 2 p.m.
- Old Dominion @ VCU (ESPN2) 2 p.m.
- Baylor @ Texas (ESPN) 4 p.m.
- Tennessee @ Florida (ESPN) 6 p.m.
- Detroit @ Butler (ESPN2) 8 p.m.
- San Diego State @ UNLV (CBS College Sports) 8 p.m.
- Pittsburgh @ Villanova (ESPN) 9 p.m.
- Kansas State @ Colorado (ESPNU) 9 p.m.
- Purdue @ Illinois (CBS) 1 p.m.
- Marquette @ Georgetown (ESPN) 1 p.m.