Two teams passing in the night – some 1,000 miles apart.
The Michigan Wolverines got their shot and made the most of it during their NCAA Tournament second-round game in Wichita, Kan., on Saturday night. Less than 24 hours later and much closer to home, Michigan State was never allowed its shot – Cassius Winston’s heave from 45 feet not withstanding – because of an experienced coach taking the ball right out of the Spartans’ hands.
And let’s face it, Michigan State probably would have missed a more reasonable shot – just like the other 49 shots they missed during their 55-53 loss Sunday to Syracuse at Little Caesar’s Arena.
Welcome to March Madness – and it’s maddening because it often comes down to the final seconds with a made shot extending one’s season and a missed opportunity ending another. The ball doesn’t always bounce the way you or the experts expect – hence two No. 1 teams (Xavier and Virginia) failing to even reach the Sweet 16.
One team that did reach the Sweet 16 and is still dancing in the streets are the Wolverines, thanks to some last second magic following 39 minutes and 59 seconds of forgettable basketball.
Down by two points to Houston with 3.6 seconds left, freshman Jordan Poole stepped on the dance floor and performed a winning waltz that will be remembered forever. He only played 10 minutes Saturday night but his 30-foot three-point just beat the buzzer as the Wolverines just beat the Cougars 64-63 to advance to the Sweet 16.
Michigan was all set to play North Carolina but the Tar Heels were booted off the dance floor by Texas A&M. The Wolverines and Aggies play at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday in Los Angeles.
The other Michigan team wasn’t so fortunate. The Spartans came in heavily favored against Syracuse in Detroit’s awesome new downtown arena that turned into a sea of green and white on Sunday afternoon. But MSU couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean against the Orange’s trademark 2-3 zone defense.
More than 87 percent of entries on CBS Sports Bracket Games had the Spartans advancing to the Sweet 16. But MSU Coach Tom Izzo didn’t care about ruining people’s brackets – he cared more about his players, his program and his reputation after the loss.
“As everybody knows it’s been a … (pause) … different year,” Izzo said in his postgame press conference. “I don’t think me personally I could have gone through the year without a group like I had. I know there would be no way.
“Every Michigan State person can be a little upset with me but don’t be upset with them (players) because they did their job in a very difficult time and did it with class and humility.”
It’s been a “different” year for the Spartans, indeed. Michigan State has been tied to an FBI investigation and a review of how assault allegations have been handled within the Spartans’ entire athletic department.
Izzo, 63, emphasized he wants to be part of the solution in rebuilding the program’s reputation and has no plans to retire or move on.
“I don’t plan on going anywhere,” Izzo said. “I’ve got a job to do. I’ve never run from anything in my life. Nothing. I don’t plan on starting now. So, I’ll be here. I took too many bullets this year not to be here.”
Michigan State fans and Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim had one thing in common after the game – both wanted to talk.
“Why is it (postgame press conferences) so short here,” Boeheim asked the moderator after she asked for one final question. “When we win I don’t mind talking.”
Michigan State fans were doing plenty of talking and mumbling on their way to their cars following the game. Much of the disdain was directed at Izzo – so he got his request to blame him for the loss and not his players.
The difference between our two Big 10 teams was that Syracuse wasn’t going to give the Spartans their “Michigan moment.” Boehiem said afterwards he has always fouled in those situations and it’s never cost them a game.
Michigan was given its moment only after the Cougars missed two free throws to open the door. Syracuse would not be so generous.
With 7 seconds left and down two points, SU’s Tyus Battle fouled Matt McQuaid, whose two free throws made it a one point game. McQuaid then fouled Battle, who stepped to the line and pushed the lead back to three.
Again, instead of giving the Spartans a chance to tie the game, the Orange fouled. This time Braedon Bayer fouled Winston, who made two free throws to make it a one-point game again with 3 seconds left. MSU fouled again and Syracuse (Paschal Chukwu) made the first free throw but missed the second.
But the damage was done. With 2 seconds left, Joshua Langford grabbed a defensive rebound for Michigan State but there wasn’t enough time to get off a good look. Winston fired up a running shot from MSU’s side of the midcourt line that was way off the mark – not exactly the shot you are looking for to win the game. There is madness and then there is impossible.
One thousand miles apart. Two Michigan ships passing each other in the night.