Michigan State Spartans Discard Badgers 83-75 to Get an Early “Christmas and 4th of July Present” in Michigan
Bankers Life Fieldhouse
The Michigan State Spartans are on a mission. They are focused and they are hungry. Those are dangerous descriptions of a Tom Izzo coached basketball team in March. They came into the Big Ten Tournament needing games together to regain chemistry and team adhesion. They have found it.
They had no issues discarding a Badger team getting a lot of discussion for a #1 seed in the NCAA dance like they were a team of walk on players from Grand Valley. Once again a loaded Spartan team was empty of one star. It was again a consummate team effort.
The usual stars shined. Adreian Payne dropped 18, Denzel Valentine distributed the ball in ways that reminded old men like me of Scott Skiles and Magic Johnson. Keith Appling handed out assists like politicians hug babies and Branden Dawson brought toughness and a blue collar willingness to grind that would have made Charles Barkley ask for his autograph. All Gary Harris did was score and play superb defense and Travis Trice distributed and scored silently like an assassin.
Smiling, yes smiling on the bench was a future Hall of Fame coach named Tom Izzo whose face simply told America, “We’re back!” The Spartans are sending a message to the nation and the NCAA men’s basketball committee that they are looking for a fair seed and a ticket to Dallas.
A beaming Izzo stepped to the podium after the game and praised a blossoming Branden Dawson. He said, “I’m really proud of is this guy next to me, Branden [Dawson], 14 points, he’s hitting jump shots, seven, eight rebounds, he’s really been a difference-maker on the defensive end, too.”
Payne said that he doesn’t think the Spartans are back. In fact, “I think we’re just scratching the surface because we didn’t play at a high level before. We just haven’t had time for everybody to play together a long period of time so we can get our chemistry together. This tournament has been great because we’ve been able to play with each other more, and we’re starting to look better. We’re just trying to get better each day, and by us having a game every day, we’re getting a chance to play with each other and get better.”
Dawson had his own sentiments, “We have to get better defensively and communicate, and I think that’s important for us. We’ve been playing great, our chemistry has gotten a lot better, Keith [Appling] is playing with a lot of confidence, and him and Travis [Trice] are pushing the ball more, and our chemistry is looking great.”
After the game in the locker room Denzel Valentine told me the key to this Spartans squad is really simple. “We are starting to play with confidence and some rhythm.” Keith Appling said, “We aren’t asked to do anything we haven’t done before. It is nothing we haven’t seen before. It is effort; it’s shooting, it rebounding and defense. We know what to do. We have done it and finally we are starting to do that again.”
The scary thought is that the Badgers played good enough to win and didn’t. That tells you exactly what is going on in the Spartan Nation. They are discarding top seed teams by double digits and later this afternoon they get the shot to do it to their greatest rival. This may not be the NCAA dance, but it is March. Enough said: Izzo time!