MSU/U-M rematch buzz slips after Sunday

The Sequel lost its sizzle Sunday. The state of Michigan laid a rotten basketball egg.

Neither Michigan State nor Michigan awakened from an early slumber, opting to hit snooze, roll over and go back asleep. When both finally open their eyes, they will realize that all the hysteria and hyperbole over the state hosting the Big Ten’s two best teams is nothing more than a mirage.

On a scale of which was more forgivable on Black Sunday, No. 21 Wisconsin’s 75-62 obliteration of the 15-ranked Wolverines in Ann Arbor wasn’t terribly shocking considering the Badgers are playing the best basketball in the conference and U-M always has been a one-dimensional offensive team — even when it comfortably rolled through the early stretch of its conference schedule.

When the jump shots don’t fall, U-M fails.

But the Spartans’ 60-51 loss to a mediocre Nebraska team in East Lansing easily becomes their worst loss of the season and might have cost them any chance of seizing a No. 1 NCAA tournament seed. It was a colossal embarrassment considering U-M’s loss earlier in the afternoon offered the No. 9 Spartans a golden opportunity to take sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.

Black Sunday’s biggest victim, though, is this coming Sunday. The MSU/U-M rematch at Crisler Center nowmerits a shoulder shrug and a disappointing sigh of what could have been. There has been genuine optimism the Spartans and Wolverines could make the Final Four, validating the predominant belief the Big Ten — once again — is the country’s deepest basketball conference.

But beyond that, both could have seriously challenged for the Big Ten’s first NCAA championship since the Spartans won the crown in 2000. U-M had the efficient offense and sound perimeter shooting to potentially offset a zone defensive team such as top-ranked and unbeaten Syracuse. MSU possessed the offensive diversity and veteran leadership necessary for a long run through March. And, of course, how huge could the Spartans play once they get their injured players back?

But it has been a terrible February for each team, as each has lost three games.

It wasn’t that long ago when the Big Ten player of the year contest was an exclusive two-man race between the Spartans’ Gary Harris and the Wolverines’ Nik Stauskas. But both have lost their shooting strokes this month, raising concerns that if U-M and MSU are actually one-man offensive teams then how realistic are their chances for an excellent NCAA tournament?

And wasn’t it a foregone conclusion that John Beilein or Izzo was battling for conference coach of the year honors considering how they worked through injuries to keep their teams atop the Big Ten? Both deserve fair credit for developing undervalued players such as Caris LeVert and Denzel Valentine, who have become key contributors in the absence of designated stars.

But Black Sunday exposed the flaws with these teams that aren’t going away.

The Wolverines remain susceptible to big men who can shoot from the perimeter, and there remain questions regarding their overall toughness. The Spartans are vulnerable to lapses when they think their reputation of relentless work ethic flips on like a light switch rather than requiring steady diligence and regular maintenance.

Perhaps both teams were guilty of looking ahead to this Sunday.


Posted by Tribune News Services

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