There has been a lot of optimism about MSU’s chances this NCAA tournament from the National Media. Nineteen of the Twenty-Seven ESPN analysts polled chose MSU to make the Final 4, Nine of whom chose MSU to win it all. With today’s news about De’Andre Hunter’s broken wrist, I’d imagine a few more will be picking the Spartans to win it all.
Our friend Matt Sheehan gave us some reasons to be excited and some to be worried. At the end of his piece, he has a poll that rings (slightly) differently than what the National Media is feeling with this MSU squad.
So here we are. Jeff rolled a one, Troy grabbed the pizza, and Annie’s got a gun. Let’s see what went wrong.
MSU fans came out in droves for the 91-mile hike from East Lansing to Little Caesars arena, the building was electric and introductions were intense. There was a clear home court advantage for the Spartans.
Unfortunately, Bucknell didn’t care.
MSU wins the tip and promptly throws the ball away while trying for an alleyoop. Zach Thomas gets past Bridges on a drive receiving an and-one after an ill-advised block attempt by Nick Ward. With Bucknell’s shallow front court, MSU forces it down low to Nick Ward who is called for a very floppy charge leading to his second foul.
Instead of going small with Ward in foul trouble, Coach Izzo opts to replace Ward with Schilling in the ongoing attempt to put the Bucknell big men in foul trouble. Bucknell keeps the pressure on and knocks down a three after a bad pick and roll switch. This time MSU goes to Jackson down low. He tries to post up Nana Foulland but has no success and throws up a wild hook shot, leading to a Bucknell run out and transition three. No timeout is called for MSU, and they run their classic horns set, ending up with a tough mid-range jumper for Josh Langford who knocks it down. Defensively, things get a bit better. Bridges is able to stay in front of Zach Thomas who passes out to Stephen Brown who takes a shot clock dwindling air ball. MSU fans get involved with an “Air ball, Air ball, Air ball” chant which leads into the under sixteen timeout.
The fan energy is a bit more calm coming out of the timeout. Miles takes a long three but can’t connect, and Bucknell gets another run-out that ends with a Matt McQuaid foul and a four point play for Stephen Brown. With a 13-2 deficit, Cassius forces a three with a hand in his face but can’t knock it down. Brown feeds Foulland the ball down low who dunks on Tillman. Down 15-2, MSU calls a timeout.
The energy resembles the 2009 Title game…
It is impossible for MSU fans to not remember that they were also losing 15-2 against Middle Tennessee State and you can hear a pin drop in Little Caesars Arena. Coming out of the time out, home court feels like a burden as opposed to an advantage.
The rest of the half is back and forth, with MSU getting the better of Bucknell; knocking a three down at the buzzer to go into the half down 39-30.
After an extended absence by Nick Ward in the first half, Izzo goes back to his starting lineup, getting the big man the ball down low. Two quick buckets by Ward and misses by Bucknell has MSU only down five. MSU feeds him down low again, and he is called for a charge, his third foul of the game, and he finds himself back on the bench, where he stays the rest of the night.
Bucknell struggles to make shots, but MSU is unable to adjust offensively without Ward’s presence down low and settles for bad jumpers. Heading into the under twelve, Bucknell is clinging onto a 60-57 point lead and Spartan fans are finding themselves involved in the game again. A tremendous defensive game by Miles Bridges gives way to a quick lapse with Zach Thomas getting by him for a thunderous dunk over Jaren Jackson. On the other end, Bridges tries to pay Thomas back with a monstrous dunk of his own, but is called for a charge. Tom Izzo is apoplectic and is called for a technical foul.
A mini spurt by MSU brings the game back within 5. With the Spartans in foul trouble, Thomas attacks the rim and gets to the line to make the lead 7. MSU misses a contested jumper which leads into a transition bucket and-one to give Bucknell a 10 point lead.
With the Non-Spartan fans (mostly U of M) smelling blood in the water, the crowd turns on MSU and goes nuts for the huge upset that is brewing. MSU is not able to complete a comeback despite holding Bucknell without a field goal for the last four minutes, and Zach Thomas gets free throws the rest of the way by throwing his body into people until the score is final at 91-82 Bucknell.
For some weird reason, Mo Wagner decides to come out and celebrate with Bucknell who was cutting down the nets like it is the Final Four, despite the LCA staff trying to stop them as there is still another game to be played tonight.
Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson, and Nick Ward all announce they will leave MSU to go pro. Cassius Winston decides to follow the announcers talking point and head to Harvard. While Foster Loyer and Marcus Bingham Jr. decide that instead of coming to East Lansing, they will go play in the Big Baller League. Tom Izzo decides he is tired of the recruiting game and takes the vacant Detroit Pistons job, only to be replaced by Bo Ryan.
... Wait what just happened... I blacked out...
So anyway, onto predictions for Friday’s big game!
MSU 80, Bucknell 70, in an easier than the score indicates game.