Edson: Buckle Up for MSU, U-M Tournament Rides

As Michigan State was wrapping up its regular season with a 75-63 victory over arch-rival Michigan on Saturday night in East Lansing, Spartans coach Tom Izzo had tears in his eyes as his seniors met him on the sidelines.

They grabbed their head coach and enjoyed a long embrace.

“What did you say to your seniors?” Izzo was asked in the media room afterwards.

Izzo smiled at the question.

“I just told them I loved them and they said the same to me,” he said with a smile.

In truth, that’s part of the reason for Michigan State’s success.

Izzo might be a taskmaster, but he listens to his players, too. He knows how to build trust and loyalty with his players. You hear his ex-players talk about that all the time.

How else do you explain the Spartans losing two of their best three players to injury and then coming back to repeat as Big Ten champions?

Izzo doesn’t offer excuses. He knows injuries are part of the game. So instead of offering an excuse for his players, he demands that the players still on the court simply step up their game.

Let’s face it, at the start of the season who saw Xavier Tillman being one of the big difference makers down the stretch for the Spartans? He started his career at MSU as a walk on.

But he typified what drives Michigan State’s basketball success – rebounding, shot blocking and tough interior defense.

On the other side of the court, Michigan settled for third place in the Big Ten. But the truth is, I think the Wolverines have superior talent to Michigan State.

John Beilein said his team simply “imploded” on Saturday night after taking command of the game in the first half.

Beilein knows that the Spartans are like fighting a dragon – you can’t just injure them, you have to make sure they are down for the count.

So when MSU made its run in the second half – as you knew they would – the Wolverines lost their poise on both ends of the floor.

Maybe the loss at East Lansing will be a learning tool for the Wolverines.

Both Michigan and Michigan State will be among the favorites in the Big Ten tournament this week in Chicago, of course.

But what about the NCAA tournament, which starts a week after that?

My feeling is that both the Spartans and Wolverines are capable of making a long run. And they are both capable of getting knocked out early.

There is no clear cut favorite in this year’s NCAA tournament – not with Duke freshman star Zion Williamson still nursing a sore knee.

So whoever gets hot during the next month – and it could be either the Spartans or Wolverines – could steal an NCAA title.

Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.

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