When two teams get ready to play an athletic event, it never ceases to amaze me how each approaches things. Before the Big Ten championship game in football I Tweeted and talked about how loose Mark Dantonio was. He was all smiles and acted more like a guy who had been out to sea for a year who was home visiting his loved ones. Urban Meyer was uptight and nervous.
Yesterday the Michigan State Spartans were laid back, and loose. The over manned Crimson were the same. Make no mistake in thinking that Harvard was arrogant or over confident. It wasn’t that at all. They are just smart enough to understand the circumstance and what they are up against.
Like their incredibly classy and terrific coach (Tommy Amaker) the Crimson are glad to be here and not intimidated. They respect Michigan State, but they also realize it is a basketball game.
Brandyn Curry discussed the mindset of the Crimson like this, “We’re definitely in for a battle. Michigan State’s one of the best teams in the country. They’re highly favored by a lot of people to win it all. So, they got a lot of hype about them and they’re well deserving, they’re a great team. Obviously, Adreian Payne is a force inside as he proved. He got 40, so we know going into it he’s ready to go. They have great guard play, they’re an outstanding team. Coach Izzo is a great coach and they have a great team. So, we got to come full force.”
Laurent Rivard says that the Spartans are great, but don’t count us out. “I did watch some of the Mercer Duke game and some of the North Dakota State game last night. This is why they call it March Madness. Everyone has to come ready to play and some teams play have a really good game on like a specific day, the other team might not. This is what the madness is all about.”
Curry said that the Mercer and North Dakota State wins can be used as motivation by the Crimson. “Anything can happen in these 40 minutes and watching those games, it just shows why this tournament is such a great thing. I think that now the quote unquote Mid Majors, that gap is slowly closing. As you can see, these upsets are happening more and more often. I think it’s because of the talent around America is just getting better and these players are going to decide to be different and go to different institutions and want to do something different. I think both of those schools that was their first victories ever in the tournament. I’m sure the coaches sold it just like Coach Amaker sold it to us, come here and be different. I know they got highly talented players that could have went on to play at some of these other universities, but they decided to go there and that’s why, to make history and do something special.”
I wrote in detail how Delaware told me that they wanted to take the game to the glass against Michigan State. That didn’t work out to well, so I asked the Harvard players if perhaps it may be better to try to just play a complete game than to attempt to take one of the Spartans many weapons away. They agreed.
Wesley Saunders told me, “I think that any team we matchup against we just try to play our game. We don’t really worry too much about what they do, necessarily. We just try to stick to our standards and principles and do the things that have gotten us to this point.”
The vociferous Curry said, “we try to focus more on what we’re doing and stuff like that. We might pinpoint certain areas we think that we can put more emphasis on, like against Cincinnati. It was taking care of the ball and boxing them out because they’re great on the offensive boards. So, we’ll figure that out, what it is with Michigan State. Like Wesley said earlier, we haven’t really got into our report or anything like that. We’ll do that tonight. So, coaches will give us the game plan. But, we will definitely try to focus more on handling us, because we feel if as long as we play well and are happy with how we play, at the end of the day when we look up at the scoreboard, it will most likely favor us.”
Harvard is the team that everyone would root for if your team wasn’t playing. They are a bunch of basketball players who chose to go somewhere that doesn’t have athletic scholarships to play the game they love. They are not happy being the darling. They respect MSU, but they want to make history.
Rivard said, “It’s definitely a big game and last year we were fortunate enough to make it to the third round again in the tournament. And for Brandyn and I, it’s our last go around with Harvard. So, we definitely, we’ll try to make history more history and it’s definitely a big game. I mean it could be our last game, we don’t know, and we’ll try not to play our last game on Saturday. But, it’s really exciting.”
Curry again didn’t make it about MSU. He made it about Harvard and said he’s hungry. “Absolutely our goal is to make more history. Our goal is every year, is to get better. And so, and we so far we have done that every single year. From going from the CIT to the NIT to the NCAA to winning a game. We’re getting better and better slowly so obviously, next step is we have to win two games in the NCAA tournament. So, that’s what we’re aiming to do at least.”
Harvard is used to being here. This is the second year in a row that they have won their first tournament game. So are they tired of being Cinderella? Are they tired of being the underdog?
Curry had a lot of laughs and pause, followed by consternation before he said, “That’s a tough question. I guess a little bit. Because I feel like we have shown that we’re definitely a dangerous team that can beat a lot of people. I think maybe early on when we first started and were first getting into the tournament maybe, but, I think we have proven that we deserve to be here. But at the same time, of course, I think that it makes for a good story, we’re an Ivy League school, we don’t have any scholarships. A lot of people don’t have respect for the Ivy League at all, so I guess in that regard that probably won’t ever change. But, I definitely think that not just us, but the rest of the teams in our conference what they have done over the past few years have shown that we’re the Ivy League is definitely a great league. “
Wesley Saunders doesn’t mind being the darling as well. “I definitely think that just always when you think of Harvard you’re going to think academics first. I don’t really know what the sports program could do to really overshadow the academics of Harvard. But, I think that we’re slowly starting to pop up on people’s radar, and people across the country are taking notice of what we have been able to do. So yes and no.”
The respect that the Crimson have for Michigan State comes from their head coach. Always a defender of Amaker, that meant a lot in tough times as Tom Izzo rose to his defense. UM fans claimed that Izzo did it because he thought Amaker was inferior.
I was in practice. I can tell you that wasn’t the case at all. He was undermanned because UM was dealing with sanctions that had nothing to do with him. Amaker himself is an amazing man and coach.
Amaker said, “we go back a long way. Prior to my time at Michigan as a head coach there. Tom’ a great friend and I have the utmost respect for him. We all know what kind of great he’s a terrific basketball coach. He’s even a better person. He was the first guy that, the first coach outside of my immediate kind of family, if you will, that called me when I got fired. Tom has been a true friend through the years and I’ve respected him.
And you see you how well he’s done and the greatness that he’s brought to Michigan State and their campus. And I just with winning basketball games, I think he’s an ambassador for the institution, for the state of Michigan and certainly for the game of basketball. So, I think the world of him and I just, I wish we wouldn’t have to have this game, but certainly it’s here and I do think that he is as good as they come”
Today two programs will lineup that don’t hate each other. Today is business. David and Goliath. Underneath the pomp and circumstance that is big time basketball remember that there is a ton of respect for each other.