Michigan State Spartans (25-8) vs. Temple Owls (21-12)
When: Thursday, 12:20 p.m.
MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
1. Foolish Consistency is the Hobgoblin of Conference Champions. On February 16 , Michigan State went to Indiana to face lame duck coach Kelvin Sampson, and, despite leading by double digits early in the first half, they lost the game by 19. Twelve days later, they scored a whopping 42 points in a loss at Wisconsin. Three days after that, they broke 100 for the first time all season and smoked those same Hoosiers by 29. (Guess Bloomington should have held on to the guy, huh?) They somehow led their conference in field goal percentage, but only managed to score 36 against lowly Iowa. (Yes, that was for one entire game.) They had only one non-conference loss all year (to then No. 1 UCLA), but blew winnable games against Penn State and Purdue and never had a shot at the Big Ten title. So what does it all add up to? Fuck the heck if I know. Come tourney time the Spartans could be done by the first weekend or go through to the final game and I wouldn't really be surprised either way. I'd lean toward the the latter though, because ...
2. Drew Neitzel is Ambidextrous! Bet you didn't know that! Oh wait, everyone knows that because the story of how Drew's loving high school hoops coach father bequeathed his son grit and determination by forcing him to brush his teeth left-handed is a weary color commentator's best friend. Unfortunately, if Drew does not become a NBA late-first-rounder, but instead becomes, say ... a liquor store holdup man, that exact same story will be used by Court TV reporters to demonstrate how his cruel and abusive father crushed a young boy's spirit in an effort to vicariously reclaim his broken athletic dreams through his son. Ain't sports grand?
3. Matt Steigenga, Kris Weshinskey, Jaime Feick. Tom Izzo spent 12 years as an assistant coach under Jud Heathcote, patiently waiting for his chance to take over the program. In the 13 years since then, the Spartans have far surpassed what fans could have ever hoped for in that previous dozen. Every four-year player since Izzo became head coach has played in at least one Final Four. These three former Spartans are not among them, because as much as I adore these fine gentlemen and their contributions to my personal sports memories, I'm not sure if they could crack the starting five of this current squad. (Also because Kenny Anderson is a lying cheater, but that's another story.) The point is this - I am old and grumpy, and even though I was in the student section the day Coach Izzo took over the reigns, I never got to see a Big Ten title won from those seats and I am still bitter about that. The more relevant point is that despite the underachievements noted above, this 2008 team is loaded with talent and few coaches prepare their players better than Izzo, so no untested middle-to-high seed should ever want to face them. Thanks to their beloved coach, Michigan State fans no longer hope ... we expect. He's not so much with the comedy, but the guy knows his basketball.
1. Philly's Phinest. An afterthought at the beginning of the season and seemingly since the departure of John Chaney, second year head coach/former Penn coach Fran Dunphy has transformed the Owls into a contender more quickly than anyone could have imagined. While everyone was raving about A-10 flameouts Dayton, Rhode Island and UMass back in December, the Owls laid low and got hot at the right time, winning their final seven games and defeating city and conference rival Saint Joseph's to win the A-10 title in AC. The Owls also assure the City of Brotherly Love that it won't be shut out of the Big Dance, which last happened in 1977.
2. Christmas Time in March. For those of you who still have the Christmas lights up, you're in luck! It's Christmas time in March this year! The Owls are lead by one of the nation's best one-two combos in Mark Tyndale and Dionte Christmas. Tyndale is the versatile senior leader who does all of the little things (leads team in assists and rebounds), while Christmas can light up the scoreboard (20.2 ppg). The one-two punch of Tyndale and Christmas often creates match-up nightmares for most teams; it has been nearly impossible to stop both all season.
3. Ole Ole Ole. The Owls transformation from NIT squad to tournament team may be the result of Spanish center Sergio Olmos progressing from "project" to "valuable big man." The 7'2" Spaniard has improved leaps and bounds from the start of the season, creating a post presence for the Owls that has been missing for years. Also, it's always fun to join the student section singing "Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole..." every time he scores a bucket. — Storming The Floor