It should be kind of obvious that the first week and a half of 2012 has been a great time to be a Spartan fan. The football team’s come-from-behind, triple-overtime win over Georgia in the Outback Bowl. The men’s basketball team’s overtime win at Wisconsin, breaking a long losing streak at their rival’s arena. The women’s basketball team’s big win at nationally ranked Penn State.
And last night, the men again, blowing out Iowa by a score of 95-61 and looking as dazzling and in sync as any of Coach Tom Izzo’s Final Four teams. That certainly whet the appetites of Chicago Spartans for Saturday’s game in Evanston, when MSU visits Northwestern.
First, let’s salute the football team for its #10 ranking in the final AP football poll. This is a time for celebration, not spite, so I won’t go on about the fact that the #9 team is Michigan, who the Spartans beat 28-14 this past season. So I will be magnanimous about what clearly was a bizarre decision.
By law, though, I cannot coordinate with any SuperPAC that wants to support my pro-Spartan campaign, and I am not accountable for any negative thing they have to say about the college football polls or the BCS bowl game system.
That happens to be a stuffed cow that we use as a trophy for the member of the month on the Chicago Spartans club board. In case it’s not clear, she is wearing a protest sign that reads “Occupy BCS! Fair Play for Spartans.” I swear, I have no idea where that came from. And you have no way of proving otherwise.
Meanwhile, the Spartan basketball team progressed by leaps and bounds from its season-opening losses to national powers North Carolina and Duke, running up a 14-game winning streak and opening their Big 10 season with three consecutive wins going into last night’s game. Yet we still had to wonder what the team could do if it was hitting on all cylinders for a full 40 minutes.
Even in the team’s big December 28 win at home over a very tough Indiana team, the Spartans had a mid-game dead zone that turned an 18-point lead into a nine-point deficit. Fortunately their defense slammed the door and they ended up winning by 15.
Well, last night we were treated to what this powerful but still improving 2011-12 version of Izzoball looks like at its best, and it sure legitimized that #6 national ranking that MSU earned this week.
The Spartans ran out to a 10-2 lead and then, after an Iowa 3-pointer cut the lead to five, extended their edge to 30-15. Iowa mustered a 7-point run to cut the lead to eight, but Michigan State effectively put the game away with a 16-2 run and a 46-24 halftime lead. A 29-2 rampage in the second half built the lead to 40, prompting Izzo to empty his bench and give the walk-ons some playing time.
Team captain Draymond Green, a senior, continued to combine excellent play — he led the team with 22 points and nine rebounds, and added five assists — with team leadership on the court. Keith Appling, a sophomore who is gaining attention as one of the nation’s best point guards, had 15 points and nine assists.
The team’s unselfish approach on offense is underscored by the fact that three other players scored in double figures (starter Brandon Wood with 12 and Derrick Nix and Travis Trice with 10 apiece off the bench), and the team registered 25 assists on 37 field goals.
That bench strength may prove to be one of Michigan State’s biggest assets in the race for the Big 10 championship. Along with starters Green, Appling, Wood, Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson, Izzo is getting a lot of playing time from Nix, Trice, Austin Thornton, Branden Kearney and Alex Gauna.
While MSU regularly goes eight- to 10-deep in its player rotation, depending on how close the game is, other Big 10 contenders are much more reliant on their starting five. Illinois and Ohio State, both top-tier teams in the conference this year, played a great game that was televised last night, with the Illini boosted to victory by guard Brandon Paul’s 43-point career game. But neither team had a single point off the bench.
The win over Iowa lifted the Spartans to a 15-2 overall record and a 4-0 start in Big 10 play. This might be a good time to remind you of my blog post back in November that describes MSU as “the best 1-2 team in college basketball.” It took the polls six weeks, and eight wins in a row, to even put the Spartans back in the top 25. Now they are at #6 and rising, lurking close to the kind of ranking that gets you a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
I’ll be magnanimous about that, too. But I can’t make any promise about my SuperPAC. That cow has a bad attitude when she thinks the Spartans are being slighted.