St. Louis, MO
Somewhere around 2:45 ET today the 29-5 #2 Michigan State Spartans will take the court and play #15 24-9 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. The Spartans are a favorite to win the entire tournament and loaded from top to bottom. The Spartans being the proverbial favorite to cut the nets down in Houston have to dance with the Blue Raiders fulfilling the role of Cinderella. The Blue Raiders are a good team, well coached, but needing help to extinguish the red hot Spartans.
I asked junior Blue Raiders forward Reggie Upshaw about the euphoric moment that you find out you made the tournament and the hard dose of reality that you are playing a Tom Izzo led Spartan team. His humble answer was a testament to his character.
“As far as just the excitement and realizing who we're playing, I think our coaches have done a great job leading up to us coming up here, just telling us, I mean, it's just another team. Yeah, they have a lot of history. But I mean we've played against great competition all year. We had a really tough nonconference schedule. So I feel like we're prepared to play just about anybody.”
Senior combo guard/forward Perrin Buford echoed his teammate’s humble thoughts, “We did have a really good non-conference schedule that I feel like prepared us for this moment. And I know me and my teammates have put in a lot of hard work all season long. The coaches have done a great job during the scout, just to get us prepared for this moment. So, yes, we're here and we're ready to go.”
For Tom Izzo the Blue Raiders are a team that his Spartans can’t afford to overlook. Their head coach Kermit Davis is a well-respected floor general with 346 career wins and a team that may not have all the talent of a MSU, but they are talented and you can only play five at a time.
Izzo said, “I think we're playing a team and Kermit's team is very well coached. They run a lot of things. They play a lot of different defenses. They have five guys that can shoot it and they've got the leading three-point shooter, percentage-wise, in the country. So it creates different problems for us that maybe we're used to in our league when you've got five guys shooting threes in that starting group. But at the same time I'm really excited and feel privileged that we're here and we're here with a good team. And whether it ends up a great team, I guess that's what the next week, two weeks, three weeks are for.”
For Davis it was a little bit of a different approach. He understands that his team must player nearly flawless to beat a MSU team that can play terrible and get the win. Davis told me, “I really haven't thought a lot about it like that. And I don't think our players really have. I mean, I think they expected to win our tournament championship; our team's been through a lot of adversity with injuries. Like I said, I think they do have a quiet confidence. We understand Michigan State's a team that can win the national championship. But I just think our guys have just prepped like we have all year long, and I think they're looking forward to playing well tomorrow.”
The thing that sticks out the most when watching Middle Tennessee is that not only are they well coached, but they are also extremely unselfish. They play some of the best help defense that there is. Normally coaches love that and scream for more, but perhaps not today.
With Michigan State able to go with a 12 man rotation and talent very deep in the roster The Blue Raiders can’t be so unselfish to help their teammates. Doing so will leave someone open who can punish you. Middle Tennessee has yet to face a team loaded with talent like the Spartans.
I asked Davis to expound on that, “You know, we changed defenses a lot. That's kind of who we are. And we do different things, not tricky, but trying to disrupt tempo. Michigan State is probably the best offensive rhythm team in college basketball. So hopefully that will take into play. We've had two injuries to two starting guards during the year that won't play tomorrow night. Our team was playing 11 guys every night. So (against MSU) we'll play nine, possibly 10.”
Get ready Spartan Nation. About 2:45 PM the Spartans and the Blue Raiders tip off in a game that MSU should win, against an opponent that plays the game the way it should be played. Today’s game can be seen on CBS.