Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sudden Change. Has the torch been passed?

In the wake of another win for the University of Michigan over Michigan State, thus giving Michigan their first "sweep" since 1997, a lot of questions have been raised in both A2 and EL. The games may be over, but the debate has just begun.

The main thing on everyone's mind seems to be whether or not the torch has indeed been passed, or of Michigan's sweep was an aberration, a product of luck, or a one-year wonder. The answers aren't quite that easy, nor are they etched in stone, but some pretty strong conclusions can be drawn.

1. It's going to get worse for MSU before it gets better.

They lose Lucas and Summers. They may very well lose Tom Izzo. Even if they don't, Izzo has lost the locker room, and will have to work extremely hard to get it back.

2. It's only going to get better for Michigan.

Unless a player makes an ill-advised decision to try the NBA draft, Michigan will return all of their players. Michigan is an extremely young team that overachieved this year, but it wasn't the kind of overachievement that can't be revisited. Michigan simply grew and matured faster than anyone expected them to. And they have a lot more growth in their future.

3. Sudden change.

It's funny that the same Spartan fanbase that declared MSU to have a superior football program because they caught Michigan in a rebuilding cycle are using the same arguments they refuted when Michigan beats them twice in basketball.

At first glance, I am guilty of that myself on my side of the fence, but I have always used tradition and regression to the mean as my main arguments. Michigan is 93-71 against MSU in their basketball series. Even though they had to vacate the Ed Martin years, and even though Tom Izzo has had a great run against them, Michigan has still defeated MSU twenty-two more times than MSU has defeated Michigan.

Consequently, I see the Izzo era as a statistical aberration. As we know, statistical aberrations usually correct themselves over a longer period of time. In football, the same argument holds true. Michigan is 67-30-5 against MSU. So, once again, I see Dantonio's dominance as an aberration that will soon correct itself.

What does this have to do with sudden change? Everything. MSU fans refuse to believe that the programs can go in opposite directions so quickly, but I see it as a simple return to the norm. Michigan's product is now superior to MSU's on the court, and should be even more superior in relation to MSU's product next season. The only things lagging will be public perception and recruiting. Which takes me to the next point:

4. MSU is in severe crisis mode.

In one of the eastern languages, I believe Chinese, it is often quoted that the character which denotes crisis contains both danger and opportunity. There is plenty of both in EL right now, and it all centers around Tom Izzo. There are some possible scenarios here: let's see how it could go.

Scenario A: Tom Izzo stays and rebuilds, and his kids listen to him again.

I see this as the least likely of all possible scenarios, but if it does happen, MSU is still looking two years down the road before they return to being an elite program again. Izzo has a lot of bridges to rebuild. It's one thing to say "Spartan for life," but it's another altogether to demonstrate it with his actions. As of now, all Izzo has demonstrated is the willingness to listen to offers from the NBA.

If, however, he gets Nix, Roe, and Green back and fully "bought in," he has a decent nucleus around which to build a team. But it probably won't be enough to beat Michigan next year, and both Green and Roe will have exhausted their eligibility by the following season. This could mean that, even in a best-case secnario, it will take MSU three years to rebuild to Final Four level.

Scenario B: Izzo stays but his players don't buy in.

What happens if Nix, Roe, and Green all leave early? Izzo is going to have to rebuild with players who will play the way he wants them to. It will take the same three years, and he may lose a few of the younger players from this team if he feels the older players have "contaminated" them.

Also, one has to ask how this will affect recruiting. It certainly can't be a positive.

Scenario C: Tom Gores buys the Pistons, offers Izzo the HC job, and he takes it.

I see this as the most likely option. If he doesn't end up in Detroit, someone else will make him a good offer. Izzo has to know that the next two or three years will require a lot of hard work, and they won't help his market value any. Izzo's peak market value was last year. If he gets lucky, Gores will ignore this year and offer him $6 million a year, figuring he'll make it back just from the publicity Izzo will generate. Any NBA offer, though, will be for more than MSU can pay him or even wants to pay him after last summer and this season.

If this happens, all hell breaks loose in EL. They can do a "Michigan Football" and hire Izzo disciple Stan Heath, even though his coaching record at USF is abysmal, but even an "inside hire" won't be able to save the next recruiting class. Then, MSU is looking at four years before they are good again.

5. Michigan stands to gain immensely in recruiting.

This is the biggest battleground of all. Michigan is already starting to get decent players. Izzo no longer gets everyone he offers by simply telling recruits and their parents that Michigan is a "dirty program." The uncertainty at MSU and the feeling that JB is building a program the right way at Michigan may be enough to sway recruits to sign with the maize and blue.

Ever since Izzo was handed the ultimate recruiting tool by the Ed Martin Fiasco, he has been able to get whoever he wants in the state of Michigan. Not only could he cite the Fiasco, but he could also cite Michigan's shoddy practice facilities and the aging Crisler Arena. That is no longer the case. Michigan is rebuilding its facilities and image, and both jobs are moving along quite nicely.

Soon, a five star player will choose the maize and blue. Once that happens, elite recruits will once again see Michigan as a "destination school." And Michigan's gain will be MSU's loss.

6. You meet the same people on the way down that you do on the way up.

Sparty has been extremely arrogant when they have been on top. Soon, though, recruits, fans, and MSM alike will wonder what they have to be arrogant about now. Izzo has gotten by with the "assumed close" with HS players and coaches for a long time. Now, they are going to demand more. Can Tom Izzo subjugate his ego enough to realize that the dynamic has changed, or will he continue to recruit as though MSU still has carte blanche in Michigan? Will a new coach have to pay the price for Sparty Arrogance while creating his own dynamic?

Tom Izzo built his empire on negativity. He took advantage of the Ed Martin Fiasco and has been using it as his main instate recruiting tool for ten years now. It's like the recent TMac debate. TMac is presently seen as having been so talented that that he failed to put in the neccessary "10,000 hours of repitition" to improve his game.

Did Tom Izzo make the same mistake in recruiting? Did he fail to develop the neccessary fundamentals because he had talent-rich Michigan inadvertently handed to him by Ed Martin? Is this now a systemic problem at MSU?

I guess we'll find out in a few years.

My perception, though, is that Michigan is already the best program in the state, and that it will become obvious to many more by the end of next season. I fully believe that it will get much better for Michigan, and much worse for MSU.

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