It doesn’t happen often at MSU. In fact it has never happened at MSU. With all of the tradition, national title and Big Ten titles two top five teams have never faced off on the campus of Michigan State. That is amazing. With that fact alone you can simply call this evening’s tilt with #1 Indiana and #4 Michigan State: The Game.
Michigan State has 17 straight wins over Indiana at home. A fact that stunned Izzo. When told that he said, ““I was about to ask if you were on drugs or dial-a-clue. … Um, really?”
After a substantial pause Izzo continued, “I don’t know, I mean a lot of teams have beaten us in that time here. Northwestern, Penn State, they all got us. Uh, I don’t know. That’s a strange event that’s happened, I guess. The only thing I can say is I hope it doesn’t change. But I’m kind of shocked by that. You’ve got me speechless…”
At Michigan State you expect big games. You anticipate them. At MSU they list through the Final Four on the schedule each year, but you can tell this game takes it up another notch. C Adreian Payne said, “We are playing for a Big Ten championship and we are all excited about it. Just can’t wait to get out there and start the game. It’s a big game for both of us.”
For last week’s Michigan game the Breslin was as loud as it has ever been. Can it get even better? Payne thinks so. He added, “Yeah. I think the Brez is going to be crazy. Everybody know that it is going to be a big game. It’s just that much bigger than the Michigan game. The fans are going to be crazy and the environment going to be off the chain.”
Spartan Nation ICON Earvin MAGIC Johnson will be in the house making his debut as a college basketball analyst. Payne credits his presence for taking it up a notch. “They both was big games. We got Magic coming back so it’s going to be even better. This will be his first college game (Magic) it just bring that much more intensity because where going to play harder. Because we got former players coming back and he’s a legend.”
Players always love to downplay the atmosphere. Payne didn’t. He embraced it. “When you got the fans painted it makes the game that much better. It’s crazy, they crazy just yelling it just makes the game just better. It makes the environment of the game that much that is why you came to college.”
Super star freshman Gary Harris could have played anywhere in the nation. He wanted to be at MSU and this game is why. He said, “This is a game that anyone playing college basketball would want to be in. The environment, big game, it’s going to be on ESPN. It’s what we love to do.”
The normally relaxed Keith Appling has emerged as a man on a mission. After essentially disappearing at IU he has been on a tear. Playing at full potential even when his scoring is off, his defense and play have changed games.
Even Appling when asked if this game feels different couldn’t contain it. “Of course. Indiana’s a pretty good team, they’re coming into our building. This place should be rocking and we’re gonna be ready to go. Simple as that.”
So as a leader does Appling try to not think about what is at stake? The winner is in the driver’s seat for a Big Ten title and a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. “I try to embrace them. That’s what it’s all about. That’s why we came here, to compete for Big Ten championships and potential number one seeds in the tournament. I definitely embrace it and I think that’s one of the things that will help us play harder.”
Does the fact the Hoosiers are #1 motivate Appling more? “You could say that, but at the same time they did beat us and I feel like that’s a double motivation. Trying to get a game back and we’ll come out and play as hard as we can for 40 minutes.” He went on to add about the fire of this battle, “Yeah, of course, because you never know what you’re gonna get from any given guy on the floor. It should be fun and we all know both teams are gonna play hard and everybody’s gonna give it their all.”
Appling loves basketball. That has never been in doubt. He also appreciates it. With Mateen Cleaves and Magic in the house does that add to it for him as he performs in front of his heroes? “Of course. If it wasn’t for those guys people like me wouldn’t be here and this program wouldn’t be where it’s at today. Seeing them in the stands or coming to the game makes us play even harder.”
To some last week’s Michigan game may seem bigger. Not to Appling. Michigan is in the rear view mirror. Why is this one so much bigger? “Because we’re competing for first place in the Big Ten. That’s one of our team goals this year, to win a Big Ten championship, and now we have an opportunity to compete for it. We’re just gonna have to do as much as we can to try to go out there and get a win.”
Magic is great for reaching back and helping the MSU players get better. Especially the leaders. Appling told what Magic has talked to him about to get better. “He’s given me a lot of advice. One of the things is watch film, simple as that. That’s something I’ve been doing and it’s helped me a lot with my decision making.”
I have reported many times that Izzo isn’t about wins and losses. He is about big games and banners. He lives for this. Tom Izzo in big games is the greatest coach in college basketball, yet even he couldn’t contain the excitement. “I think there’s been a lot of good games here. Who’d ever thing the game would overshadow the rivalry game, not that it overshadows but it’s definitely a big, big game and it’s kind of ironic that it’s gonna be played against not only a great team but a great coach who’s a good friend who helped build it here. There’s so many storylines for this game that you could run out of them. To have two teams in the top 10 playing here is gonna be incredible.”
Izzo talked about this team being not as hyped up emotionally as some of his other teams. He likes it. He said, “This team is excited, but it’s not the same. It’s just not the same kind of personalities, which probably is good because I’m bouncing off the walls. Maybe there’s some balance to the whole thing. We’ve talked about they all count one. We’ve talked about sometimes a tough loss is worse for your team than a big win, is more detrimental to your team. But, you know, what I’m going to preach to my guys, and I did yesterday, today and tomorrow is these are opportunities that 99 percent of America never gets to be a part of. You say we’re 4th. That even changes it. How many times did two top five teams get to play on somebody’s campus? Maybe in the NCAA Tournament, but on somebody’s campus? It doesn’t happen very often. “
Izzo went on to take about the rarity of two top five teams playing, not just at MSU. “So it just doesn’t happen very often. When does your most famous and cherished alum come back? And having Magic in the building, this crowd. The last couple years I thought we were, you know, dipping a little bit. We have not only raised it, but I think we’ve raised it a level. So you put all those things together and these guys get the chance to do something few people get to do and if you get beat it better be because the other team was better or you just weren’t shooting the ball well. If there’s any effort-related reasons, shame on you.”
The Izzone has been lining up since this morning. Scalpers prices are through the roof and it is now only eight hours away until THE GAME. The emotion is on fire, as fans & businesses send food to the Izzone lined up in the furious wind and snow.
This is Spartan Nation. THE GAME is going to be amazing!