Everyone, it seems, loves Michigan State in this year’s NCAA Tournament, from just about all of ESPN’s talking heads to the President.
Everyone, that is, except at least one member of the Class of 1984.
Having seen almost every Spartans game this season and knowing the history under head coach Tom Izzo, I’m not as convinced.
There are too many variables for the Spartans to overcome on the way to this year’s national championship.
The most troubling of which would be:
Branden Dawson: He’s the difference-making element, the guy that takes this team from good to elite. But Dawson too often hasn’t been as healthy or as engaged and combative as the Spartans need him to be during his first three seasons. Will he compete for three straight weekends? And even if he does, will he consistently make jump shots? That’s asking a lot.
Keith Appling: The point guard battled a wrist injury in the second half of the season, one that has affected his shot from the floor and the free throw line and his confidence. State used to close games out by getting Appling to the rim or the line when necessary. The Spartans can’t count on that anymore.
The Spartans’ style: This is still an Izzo-coached team, but it doesn’t rebound in a manner that honors the tradition of such. And these Spartans rely on the perimeter shot a little too often for comfort.
Izzo’s NCAA track record: Six Final Fours, every four-year senior that’s ever played for him has been to one, a 17-year streak of making the NCAA Tournament; yeah, yeah, yeah, I get all that. But since winning the 2000 National Championship, Izzo is 1-4 in Final Four games. He’s not the only guy in an expensive suit that’s good at this.
Duke and North Carolina are also in the tournament: The MSU track record against either institution isn’t good.
This isn’t meant to suggest MSU cutting down the nets in Texas is an impossible eventual outcome.
It could happen.
But if it doesn’t I’m betting some or all of the above will have had a lot to do with it.
And in the meantime this whole favored-status thing has me a little baffled.
Izzo is seventh among active coaches in NCAA winning percentage (39-15, .722). And five of the six guys ahead of him are in the tournament (Mike Krzyzewski, .766; Rick Pitino, .750; Roy Williams, .747; Billy Donovan, .738; and John Calipari, .725).
Donovan and Florida could easily win this thing.
As could whoever survives the brutal Midwest Regional (Wichita State, Kentucky, St. Louis, Louisville, Duke or Michigan).
As could Arizona.
Much as it pains me, I’ll take the Gators.
But I don’t perceive Florida as the obvious team to beat, either.
With apologies to recent or semi-recent entries from UNLV, Duke and North Carolina, in this tournament there usually isn’t such a team.
Wonder why this year everyone seemingly just decided it was the one wearing Spartan Green?