As the sea of green eagerly waits the last 14 seconds to tick down, Tom Izzo’s Spartans are locked in as usual. Even with an 82-73 lead and just seconds away from a trip to the National Championship game, they are still playing like they have something to prove, like they are behind—still locked in with straight man to man defense.
Here is a team the state of Michigan needed to help them get through. Thousands of people were losing their jobs and unemployment rate was up to 14 percent. The blue collar citizens needed a blue collar team to pull around.
A.J Price got by Travis Walton and pulled up for what looked like an open three. Now, any normal person would just let this one go, but not a Michigan State senior. No, he leaped in just in time to get a hand in the face of Price and force the miss.
Durrell Summers, at 6'4", flew threw the air, pulling the rebound away from a Uconn big man. He has an open court in front of him with a wide open basket. But he dribbles out the clock. This is Tom Izzo basketball at its best—defense and rebounding, a blue collar team, the heart and soul of the state of Michigan.
Now, meet Michigan head coach John Beilein, the main man whom Spartans are born hating.
He's a man who defies the Big Ten gods by going against man-to-man defense instead opting for the unprecedented 1-3-1 zone defense.
His offense plays off the dribble drive motion but takes it to a new extreme by playing it in a five man out form. He loves constant motion and fearless shooting.
They break a basketball commandment every time they step on the floor.
“Thou shall not rely on the jump shot.”
His team ranked third in the nation in three point attempts and tied for tenth in made ones. They shot 12-42 from beyond the arc last season versus Florida Gulf Coast in a 76-59 win. But the coach didn’t care.
“There was probably five or six I'd take back, but (the three-pointers) were why we were up."
But Wolverine fans are already getting antsy. They want to know where the big recruits are.
Rich Rodriguez brought in the spread offense to the Big 10. He went 3-9 last season, but brought in the second best recruiting class in the conference. John Beilein went 20-13 and all they have to show for it with recruiting is players who will mesh into the system, no stars.
They almost had the rebounder they needed with incoming recruit Jordan Morgan, a 6'8" forward who would pretty much just be the garbage man of the team, doing the dirty work. He will now have to have knee surgery and will most likely be redshirted.
Incoming freshman guard Matt Vogrich and power forward Blake Mclimans both will fit into the style thanks to their great shooting ability. Darius Morris is an ESPN Top 100 player but is more of a project player. If he can become a more polished player, he could be a very skilled point guard, but that will take time.
But they do have two ESPN top hundred players singed for 2010 and both are perfect for the offense.
Evan Smotrycz is a face up power forward who has good vision and is a great passing big man. But the best part about him? He can shoot the three.
Team him up with the very skilled Tim Hardaway Jr., who also can shoot, next year and you have star power the fans are demanding.
For now, just enjoy the show. The players are having fun and that is getting recruits drooling over the possibility of shooting freely and playing in a zone defense.
But do not look past this year’s team. They have star power of their own. Manny Harris is the second leading scorer in the Big Ten and DeShawn Sims is fourth. Both are tied in the conference for fourth in rebounding with 6.8.
They combined for 32 points per game, making them the most dangerous tandem in the Big 10. Harris will make a strong case for Big Ten player of the Year next season if he can get his shot going in a little more consistently.
Guards Zack Novak, Laval Lucas-Perry, and Stu Douglas were all freshman trying to learn the new offense. Those guards should all be smarter and, with all the shots they take, they had to have improved shooting the ball.
And with center Ben Cronin returning after missing all but 10 minutes due to injury last season, they have a seven footer to clog up the middle in their zone defense.
Michigan State returns its core of players from a championship team, Purdue returns everyone, Illinois returns four out of its five leading scorers, and Minnesota and Indiana are both teams on the rise.
But they still have their coach, a guy who flirted with the NBA for a season. He is bringing some crazy new offense to a conference built on man-to-man defense.
"A lot of guys can sit down at a table and X and O, talk all about it, but most can't touch John in his ability to teach it on the floor and get guys to do it," NBA executive Rod Thorn said. "What he's done with this year's team is especially remarkable. They lost all their players, and he's got guys who didn't play last year, or weren’t big recruits—and it's just amazing how they still carve people up.
"He's one of the best coaches in all of basketball."
And will have one of the best teams in the Big Ten.