How could a team with the tradition, respect, and track record of Michigan State be an underdog to the Missouri Valley Conference's Northern Iowa Panthers?
Michigan State did garner a share of the Big Ten Championship this season. The Spartans have also been known to switch into high-gear in March—five Final Four appearances since 1999 should be enough warning.
And now that Kalin Lucas is more than doubtful to return in the postseason due to an Achilles' (heel) injury, the reports of the Spartans' demise are seemingly rolling in by the truck full.
Tom Izzo has made his coaching reputation in March, and yet, the Panthers have been picked by many experts to upset the mighty Spartans.
Michigan State has lacked leadership in its topsy-turvy 2010 campaign. That has been well documented.
Leadership is something that the Spartans hadn't figured out yet, but that's now changed after the Maryland game.
Now the Spartans are percolating along. Now Michigan State has its competitive fire.
State was tagged with the unsavory label of "underachiever" entering the madness. There were a lot of pundits who thought Jahmar Young and the New Mexico State Aggies were going to show the Izzo clan the door in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
That didn't happen.
Lucas scored 25 points and let Young and the Aggies know who he was. Lucas hasn't earned the nickname "Too Easy" for nothing, and he sure hasn't become one of the Big Ten's (and the country's) premier players overnight. The Aggies knew who he was—they just wanted to motivate themselves to take out the perennial contender.
That plan backfired on Marvin Menzie's team.
Instead, the comments fueled Sparty's determination. After a close one with the Aggies, the Terps came a-knockin'.
That was another contest that many didn't give the Spartans half a prayer to win, let alone win it the way they did (85-83). Korie Lucious must have put on Lucas' socks at halftime. There was something driving him when he sank that back-breaking three-pointer—and by watching the game closely, fans could see it.
Underdogs or not, Michigan State should be feared.
Northern Iowa is riding an incredible high after playing "David" to the Kansas Jayhawks' "Goliath"—and rightfully so.
The Panthers have caught the attention of the nation and have become America's newest sweethearts.
Ali Farokhmanesh and the seven-foot Jordan Eglseder have taken a team out of obscurity and to the front page of sports sections nationwide.
It's a great story, and March Madness needs it, but the Panthers' emotion isn't going to beat Michigan State—not in this madness.
Are the odds against Michigan State?
According to some, the writing is on the wall, and the time is prime for an upset.
Hobbling, injured, and lost are three words that have been used to describe Izzo's Spartans in 2010, but the Panthers may be licking their chops too soon, thinking that they can topple a giant again.
Draymond Green has shown up in the tournament. So have Raymar Morgan and Durrell Summers.
Farokhmenesh and Eglseder deserve all of the respect that has come their way, but it wouldn't be a wise decision to go into their game with the March legends themselves, the Michigan State Spartans, expecting to win.
Knocking off Kansas may not have been an anomaly, but slaying two premier programs back-to-back would be. Not just for a mid-major like Northern Iowa, but for any team.
The Spartans may be the media's en vogue pick to be handed an upset, but don't tell them that.
MSU is right where it wants to be: in the Sweet 16 being underestimated. Michigan State knows about chopping juggernaut teams; it did it last year on a regular basis.
Northern Iowa is a great team, but the Panthers are not the Spartans.