Michigan State entered this past season ranked #2 in the AP poll. They had their struggles in midseason, but played up to the hype when it counted in March. Without top player Kalin Lucas, the Spartans still finished just one HORRIBLE non-call away from playing in the national title game.
Butler star forward Gordon Hayward even admitted it himself, telling CBS’ Seth Davis that he legitimately hacked MSU’s Draymond Green on Green’s potential game-tying shot in the final seconds of the national semi-final game.
It was very cool of him to come clean, and some State fans might feel a little better now about how the Spartans met their Thermopylae. However the hope in East Lansing is that next year’s team will be so good even a miserable FAILURE by a NCAA referee isn’t enough to keep them from the title
Kalin’s torn left Achilles tendon served as a short-term rallying point for his teammates this past March. Winning for Kalin was their “cause” for reaching the Final Four; much like having the Final Four in their home state was the “cause” to reach the title game in ‘09.
“And I think after Kalin went down, everybody just made that commitment to just join together, just try to make a run, And that’s what we’ve been doing,” Lucas’s replacement, another KL, Korie Lucious said during the tourney.
And now Lucas is officially back for his senior season, as is his teammate Durrell Summers, the Midwest Regional’s Most Outstanding Player. The last time both a star Michigan State point guard and a stellar MSU wing chose to stay in school instead of turning pro, the school won a national championship.
Remember 1999, a time when Ricky Martin and really annoying “boy bands” were oppressively popular? Back then Michigan St. was led by a spectacular floor general named Mateen Cleaves, who battled major injuries to lead his team to the Final Four during his junior season. In his senior year, the player famous for his ugly Bill Cosby style sweaters he sported while injured and cheerleading on the bench, came back.
As did Morris Peterson, a talented wing player like Summers. And during the 1999-2000 season, the Spartans earned their second NCAA title in school history.
“We want to follow the same path Mateen and Morris did,” Summers, who averaged nearly 19 points a game during the NCAA, told the AP Friday.
So with Lucas and Summers officially back, what will the supporting cast look like? The only notable senior gone for 2011 is Raymar Morgan, an all-conference honorable mention. He certainly is a key loss, but the Spartans will once again be locked and loaded next year. Their incoming freshmen class is very stellar- highlighted by consensus top 5 center Adreian Payne and Keith Appling, a top ten point guard. Draymond Green has NBA potential too, and he’ll have another year of seasoning going for him next year, as will the talented Derrick Nix and Delvon Roe, who both came to East Lansing with much fanfare.
With all this going for them, it’s hard to think of a better “team to beat,” at least on paper, in college basketball this November.
Head Coach Tom Izzo said it best after the Final Four loss to Butler. Early second-half foul trouble and a roster decimated by injury forced him to play a rather unusual and disjointed line-up. He addressed this issue in the post-game presser, and looked ahead to 2010-11.
“That’s something I’ll learn from. We’re going to do a better job next year. You think our war drill is something now. Next year it’s going to be fist-fighting because I’m going to make sure my guys are never, ever, ever, ever, physically beaten out of a game again,” Izzo said.
Paul M. Banks is Founder/President of The Sports Bank.net, an Upper Midwest sports webzine. He’s also a member of the Football Writers Association of America, the United States Basketball Writers Association
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