Saturday, February 26, 2011

Now that the dust has almost settled...

It's time for a few random thoughts here.

1. When will it stop?

The MSM is once again writing positive stories about the University of Michigan football program. However, for some reason, they still can't manage to stop putting subtle but gratuitous digs at RR into their stories.

I know they love their new opportunity to write twenty year-old "Michigan Man" memes on autopilot instead of having to work hard; I really have no problem with that. But I really wish they would stop finding new and creative ways to mention RR in most of their articles. They are writing about RR almost as much now as they did when he worked at the University of Michigan.

Why in the fuck can't they just give it a rest?

2. It's almost tournament time

While I'm sticking to my guns and still think Michigan is an NIT team this year, it is quite refreshing that they are even being mentioned as a bubble team this late in the year. As someone who thought they would win around 14 and possibly as few as 12, I see this season as a very pleasant surprise.

Morris, Hardaway, and Morgan have turned into very solid players with the potential to be national stars next year. The team has lost a lot of very close and disappointing games this year against elite competition, but next year those losses could turn into victories because of age, experience, and a little more bulk. This team doesn't quite know how to win against elite competition yet, but it is getting very, very close.

An NCAA bid would be nice, but I am looking forward to a nice run to the final four: in the NIT.

3. Is the tide finally turning for state supremacy?

Football is a game where recruiting can't be done solely in the state of Michigan; it's no accident that Michigan's last two Heisman Trophy winners have been from Ohio. Basketball, though, is a different story.

While you can't really build a National Champion in football with mostly Michigan players, you can build one that way in basketball. Ever since Tom Izzo encouraged Mateen Cleaves to turn Michigan in to the NCAA and started the ball rolling, eventually culminating in the Ed Martin scandal, MSU has had a virtual lock on instate recruiting. Their National Championships were won mostly with instate players, especially the "Flintstones."

All Tom Izzo had to do for his first ten years was say "dirty program" to the parents of recruits being pursued by both schools, and he pretty much got anyone he wanted in Michigan. Also, MSU has great facilities, while Michigan had allowed theirs to rot. Now, though, the stigma of the Martin scandal is finally pretty much worn off. Michigan's head coach was actually the head of the ethics committee. And the facilities are finally getting a much-needed upgrade.

What does this mean for the rivalry? It means the pendulum is starting to swing away from MSU and back to Michigan. Tom Izzo has proven that he can do a great job with great players. But he has is proving this year that he also does a mediocre job with mediocre players. I have written at length about Izzo pissing away his mojo with his Cavalier indulgence, but this year's results, at least so far, are even worse for MSU than anyone, including me, could have reasonably predicted.

If there is one thing to learn from the Martin scandal, it's that a team that has been on top for a decade or even two decades can fall incredibly fast under the "right" circumstances. Also, one obvious but overlooked dynamic is the rivalry is that what is good for Michigan is bad for MSU, and what is bad for Michigan is good for MSU.

What we have now is a Michigan program on the upswing and an MSU program in danger of a severe decline. All it is really going to take now for the swing to really take hold is for one five-star instate recruit to choose Michigan instead of MSU. One big recruit, and the perception will be that Michigan is once again a desirable destination for star players.

Tom Izzo is already having to work a lot harder for recruits. This year's class, while rated highly, hasn't really shown itself to be anywhere near the usual caliber of Izzo's classes. In the past, Izzo has had his pick of anyone in the state. Now, Michigan is back in the game, and he can't just convince parents and recruits to DQ Michigan by saying "Fab Five Scandal" or "Dirty Program."

Also, as I predicted during the summer, Izzo has definitely "lost" a lot of players in the locker room. They no longer give the supreme effort that used to be a hallmark of Spartan basketball. They really don't look like a well-coached team this year. Izzo is coaching the same; the kids just aren't listening anymore. They have decided that "Spartan for life" means "Spartan until I get a better offer than the one I got from the Cavs."

Izzo has accomplished enough already at MSU to be inducted into the Hall of Fame whenever he is eligible. How long will he want to endure what he has endured this year before he finally says "FTS" and signs with the next NBA team to make a decent offer? If things go as planned, an MSU grad will soon be the new owner of the Pistons. What better way to make a "splash" than to hire Tom Izzo? If that happens, I can see a few lean years in EL.

On the other hand, in Ann Arbor, there is a young team that has already overachieved this year, even if they don't win another game. They beat MSU in the Breslin Center, which was, at the time, a major upset. They are a bubble team that doesn't have a senior. They have two first-year players and one second-year player who are rapidly becoming stars. They have two very good recruits, one from instate, coming in next year. I think John Beilen deserves serious consideration for Coach of the Year honors in the Big Ten.

Michigan will have a new practice facility soon, and Crisler is about to be upgraded. Excitement is back in Ann Arbor, and it will only get better. It may even be good enough to get that one great recruit that Michigan needs to reestablish themselves as "the" school in Michigan again.

It could happen a lot faster than even I expected.

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