Michigan State Basketball: 2011 Campaign Requires Victory in Champaign

Ryan C. ZerfasContributor IIIJanuary 18, 2011

The Spartans need to rally together quickly to salvage a season well under expectations
The Spartans need to rally together quickly to salvage a season well under expectationsAndy Lyons/Getty Images

The Michigan State Spartan basketball team is up-and-over the halfway point in the 2010-2011 basketball season yet still in search of a season defining victory.

Some might argue the victory against No. 11 ranked Washington achieved this task. Others will claim the comeback victory against rival and “Spartan Daddy” (Pedro Martinez terminology) Bo Ryan defined the season and pulled the slumping Spartans out of the gutter.

If Jim Mora was a prophet of mine (he is actually), I would say a victory over Washington meant “diddly-poo” and the Wisconsin game “sucked.”

The home wins against Northwestern and Wisconsin were nothing more than skin of their teeth wins that didn’t collapse a season (with a loss) already on life support. Don’t get me wrong, that Wisconsin game was very necessary; I’d like to refer to it lovingly as the Spartans’ own Achilles Last Stand. The Wisconsin win helped to avoid digging the hole any deeper. Now, they can return to homeostasis with a regular season cross to bear, instead of having to crawl out of the grave.  

Am I a spoiled Michigan State fan? Anything is possible, but I would counter I am the exact opposite. I know what this team needs, and it has yet to get it. Year after year, Izzo has spoiled Spartan nation with his ability to turn seemingly incompetent teams into the feel good story of March Madness.

The reality of college basketball is the regular season means very little outside the locker room: a team on paper can have a very average regular season on the court, but their worth will be determined by how they rally together when the games count. This happens when the season is shortened to less than or equal to six games and greater than (hopefully) or equal to on, i.e. during March Madness.

Teams are remembered for what they do in March. Just ask Chris Webber. Better yet, how about the legacy of Korie Lucious? Talk about a great example of fortunately and unfortunately.

Fortunately, Lucious was clutch enough to give Spartan fans a legendary March Madness moment—perhaps just short of Mateen limping back onto the court like the champion he was against Florida for the title. Unfortunately, Lucious can turn the ball over at will, brick horrific three’s all year and continue to be too small to defend other teams’ guards without that necessary chip on his shoulder.

His legacy is set. Everyone will remember his three against Maryland. Even against his resume of carelessness and absolute refusal to take care of the basketball any other time. There are no one hit wonders in basketball…fortunately and unfortunately.

I’m starting to fear this team believes their legacy is slotted prematurely as well. They will coast through the regular season and ratchet themselves up a notch when the games count. After all, that’s what everyone else seems to think?

Well, folks, everyone thinks wrong. This year is not the same at all.

This team needs to find the March Madness swagger immediately. Every great March Madness run is complimented by a necessary regular season hootenanny and jamboree proving to themselves that Spartan success is a possibility.

These are my demands to restore confidence in this year’s Spartan basketball team:

1. Split Purdue/Illinois road stand

2. Win all remaining home games

3. Slaughter Penn State for retribution

4. Return the rebounding prowess (please!?)

It’s not too much to ask if this team has any inclination to play past the Sweet 16.

It starts tonight with Illinois. Characteristically, this is a game that finds me mourning for about a week or so after a decimating beat down amongst a sea of orange in a poorly lit arena across my television screen. These Assembly Hall games in Champaign, IL are as ugly as they come. A betting man should take the spread against the Spartans without remorse in this match up if past history has anything to do with tonight’s game.

Thus far, this season has been a lot of the same, only without the safety net Izzo teams usually have. Let’s go out and get that safety net, guys…or, perhaps this year just isn’t your year, and everyone in the preseason was gravely mistaken in their projections allowing such tragic expectations.

I just keep hoping this team is different for a reason.  


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