America’s biggest basketball fun fest is ready to commence this Thursday and Friday, with a ticket ready to be punched to Indianapolis for four survivors.
Only two Michigan schools will be in March Madness’ field of 64, the Oakland University Grizzlies (26-8) and the Michigan State University Spartans (24-8). Somewhat close but no cigar went to Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan.
Left out in the cold was the University of Michigan. The Wolverines finished with a 15-17 record, including 7-11 in the Big Ten. But how they lost in the Big Ten Conference Tournament, on a last second Evan Turner desperation 3-pointer for an Ohio State victory that knocked U-M out the NCAA’s and most likely out the NIT, hurt to the core.
Former Detroit Pershing star DeShawn Sims’ eligibility is finished and junior Manny Harris from Detroit Redford High, may be gone, too.Both hope that a postseason bid awaits them, but it seems unlikely that they will be on the court together again.
“It’s definitely been a great adventure,” Sims told reporters. “Manny and I have known each other for a long time, and we complemented each other’s games.”
After Michigan’s stunning loss, the focus shifted directly on Harris and if he will return for his senior season.
“It would be selfish and wrong to even talk about me right now after losing this game,” he said after the heartbreaking loss. “I’m not going to talk about that. It would be wrong to talk about me right now.”
Michigan came into the season ranked 15th in the nation after last season’s first NCAA bid in forever and a first round win over Clemson.
“I’m not sure what has went wrong this year,” Harris told me in an interview earlier in the year, “especially after we played well in the NCAA’s and had a big win in the tournament last year. Maybe our preseason ranking was too high or maybe we have not lived up to the ranking. I really do not know. I do know that we practice hard every day and we put in the effort.”
As the Wolverines lick their wounds, the Spartans and coach Tom Izzo will be appearing in their 13th consecutive NCAA Tournament. MSU landed a disappointing No. 5 seed in theMidwest Region and will open Friday against New Mexico State in Spokane, Wash. If the Spartans win they most likely will have to confront Maryland on Sunday.
The Spartans won a share of the Big Ten title with a respectable 14-4 record, but they have been reeling lately and lost to Minnesota in the conference tournament to close out the regular season in less than stellar fashion.
Michigan State needs guards Durrell Summers and Chris Allen to get hot. They need Raymar Morgan to be a senior leader and consistent scoring and rebounding threat. Kalin Lucas, the team’s leading scorer, has got to find a rhythm and stay in it for the entire tournament run. Draymond Green just needs to continue doing what he has been doing all season and that is playing every facet of the game each night.
The Spartans would like to recreate the magic that carried them to the Final Four in Detroit at Ford Field last year. MSU got hot at the right time and beat all the odds. The Spartans laced up their sneakers against the giants of college basketball. They first beat the defending NCAA champions, Kansas, then overcame overall No. 1 seed Louisville, and followed that with a win over another No. 1 seed, Connecticut.
If MSU will find its way back to the Final Four it will have an equally tough road to traverse. They have been placed in, by all accounts, the best bracket in this year’s draw. Kansas, Georgetown, Maryland and Ohio State await the Spartans.
“I still think we’re a better team than we’ve been,” Izzo said. “It’s a fresh start and you can do that in the NCAA Tournament, let bygones be bygones.”
Oakland made the NCAA the first time, in 2005, when it was 12-18, after winning its conference tournament. This is about validation for a program that moved to Division I a decade ago and rolls into the tournament on a school-record 11-game winning streak.
“This is a group of kids that has a singleness of purpose,” coach Greg Kampe told reporters. “We feel we’ve established ourselves. This is totally different than the last time.”
Michigan State and Oakland are headed to the same place, but the expectations are very different. No matter, who knows how it will manifest itself? That is why March Madness has become a national pastime — the potential for anything to happen, and it usually does, makes for great theater and intrigue.
Leland Stein can be reached at email@example.com.