Just like the first game of the NCAA Tournament for MSU head coach Suzy Merchant, she’ll be facing a familiar friend on the opposing sideline.
On Saturday, it was Marist’s Brian Giorgis, and on Monday night it will be Maryland head coach Brenda Frese.
“For me personally, a very familiar opponent,” Frese said at Maryland’s press conference on Sunday. “(I have) the utmost respect for coach Suzy Merchant and her team. We go all the way back to our MAC days when she was the head coach at Eastern Michigan and I was at Ball State. So we know each other’s style of play extremely well and have been very good friends since that time.”
Merchant said her and Frese became acquainted before they were pitted against each other as head coaches in the Mid-American Conference. Frese spent two seasons leading Ball State in 2000 and 2001, while Merchant manned the sidelines at Eastern Michigan from 1998 to 2007 when she left for MSU.
Facing a similar situation as MSU has this season with a bevy of expected contributors shelved with injuries, Merchant tipped her cap to her coaching counterpart and praised the season Maryland has put together in spite of the challenges.
“It’s unique, I think, in a lot of ways. I mean we’re both moms, (and have) two boys in a crazy profession. Sometimes, when you have family that’s hard,” Merchant said of Frese.
“I’ve really appreciated her drive and her competitiveness. Her teams battle, I think the does a great job. Everywhere she’s been, she’s really been successful so it’s kind of fun to get reconnected again.”
College Park, Md. — Perhaps MSU women’s basketball fans spent all their money traveling to Hoffman Estates, Ill. for the Big Ten Tournament.
Or maybe it was the difference in distance from East Lansing to the conference tournament compared to the site of MSU’s first-round NCAA Tournament game: College Park, Md.
Regardless, the Spartans played the equivalent of a road game in a 55-47 win over Marist on Saturday afternoon. In the announced crowd of 4,058 I’d estimate there were easily less than 100 clad in green rooting for MSU.
This doesn’t come as a total shock — Marist’s James J. McCann Arena is just 295 miles from the University of Maryland’s Comcast Center, whereas Breslin Center is a much further 587 miles.
And many in the overwhelmingly red crowd likely were Maryland fans sticking around from the day’s earlier game to check out the Terrapins next opponent.
So after overcoming a pseudo-road game on Saturday, it will be a true road game for the Spartans on Monday facing the Terrapins on their home floor.
After getting smacked in the head with a ball and getting an awkward, “my bad” face from sophomore guard Kiana Johnson during the Spartans’ warm up, I could tell this was going to be a rough game shooting wise.
The ESPN guy behind me chuckled, “You got to watch out for that.”
When you’re on the floor, you become a part of the game. You overhear the players and coaches shouting at one another. You see the sly looks they give. If someone rolls their eyes a referee, you notice it. Although a lot of the time it’s me giving that look to a ref.
Shooting a game is not easy, especially when you’ve shot the same team over and over. I’ve shot multiple women’s games at Breslin. I followed them to Hoffman Estates, Ill. for the Women’s Big Ten Tournament. And when you’ve shot the same team so many times, sometimes your pictures start to look the same, but it’s a fun challenge trying to envision a sport differently.
People get in the way of your photos. Referees like to chill right in front of you as the players are going up for a basket. Sometimes cameras enjoy going out of focus at the worst possible time. Some arenas are dark. And no matter how exciting it all can be, there’s the lingering anxiety of missing the shot, the moment.
A writer can depict it in words, a TV camera guy has a few seconds to videotape it, but the photographer has to catch it in a split second and there’s so many things that can go wrong, it’s sometimes a miracle to me when it goes right.
My games are spent sitting on the floor, climbing into the stands, avoiding the referees, running up and down from the press box to get a photo in for a halftime story, constantly scanning the crowd for anything interesting, catching moments and unfortunately, sometimes missing them too.
This is my first time at an NCAA tournament, so let’s just hope I catch more those moments than miss them.
While the MSU women’s basketball team is busy preparing for its upcoming NCAA Tournament game with Marist on Saturday, some members of the program’s support staff had a little fun in the office by making their own variation of the Harlem Shake.
When incoming MSU recruit Tori Jankoska texted her future coach, women’s basketball coach Suzy Merchant, that she had been named Michigan’s Miss Basketball on Monday, Merchant was on the road trying to recruit more talent to surround Jankoska with.
The 5-foot-8 Freeland High standout is a combination guard capable of playing three positions for the Spartans, Merchant said.
“We’re really excited about Tori. She’s a special talent,” Merchant said at her Tuesday press conference.
“… When she let me know, I was very excited for her. I mean there’s nobody in the state that I felt like had earned it. I think (with) her numbers and what not (she) definitely should have been a Miss Basketball candidate. We really need an outside scoring threat, so I’ve been talking to her all season about her ability to shoot the basketball, come off ball-screens and hit deep threes. She can get to the paint, there’s just so many great things that she can do.”
Jankoska, who averaged north of 30 points per game this season, will be third former Miss Basketball recipient on Merchant’s roster next season, joining 2010 winner Klarissa Bell, a junior guard, and sophomore center Jasmine Hines, who earned the honor in 2011.
“When she let me know, it was a really neat moment for myself,” Merchant said of landing three of the award’s past four winners.
“Certainly I’m proud of the fact that we’ve been able to recruit and land someone of her caliber. And the second piece is just how happy I was for her and her family.”
The MSU women’s basketball team is gaining more national respect in the wake of an underdog run to the finals of the Big Ten Tournament.
The 24-8 Spartans received 36 votes in the AP poll, third-most amongst teams outside of the top 25. Big Ten regular season champion Penn State remains at No. 8, while tournament champion Purdue sits at No. 21 and Nebraska is No. 24
Apparently MSU’s quarterfinal win over Penn State wasn’t enough to improve its NCAA Tournament seeding, at least according to ESPN.com’s Charlie Creme’s latest projection.
He has the Spartans as a No. 8-seed in Waco, Texas facing No. 9-seed Princeton, which is unchanged from his previous projection.
MSU women’s basketball recruit Tori Jankoska won the state’s highest individual award on Monday by being named Michigan’s Miss Basketball.
Jankoska averaged an impressive 30.9 points, 7 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 4.8 steals in her senior season for Freeland High. The 5-foot-8 guard is the school’s career points leader and helped her team to a 22-2 season in 2012-13.
Next year, she will be the third Spartan on the roster to claim the honor, joining soon-to-be teammates Klarissa Bell (2010 winner) and Jasmine Hines (2011 winner).
The award is given out annually to the top high school girl’s basketball player by the Basketball Association of Michigan and the Detroit Free Press.
Former MSU players to win the award include Alyssa DeHann (2005), Tiffanie Shives (2004, later transferred to Gonzaga), Liz Shimek (2001), Maxann Reese (1995), Sue Tucker (1982) and Julie Polakowski (1981).
Purdue women’s basketball coach Sharon Versyp might have swung at least one fan to the Boilermakers’ side prior to Sunday’s Big Ten Tournament championship matchup with MSU.
That would be MSU coach Suzy Merchant’s two-year-old son, who after waking Merchant up early Satuday morning began to engage in Purdue’s “boiler up!” chant.
Merchant texted her friend Versyp that morning to tell her good luck before the semifinal round began and included the part about her son.
Versyp had some fun with the story at the press conference following the Boilermakers’ championship victory over the Spartans.
“We have a great friendship. She wished me luck, I wish her luck,” Versyp said.
“Now (her son has) converted himself to a Boilermaker rather than a Spartan. I guess he just likes the ‘boiler up’ thing. I think it’s nice when you have colleagueship like that. And Suzy did a phenomenal job with her team — and her son can come out and boiler up with me any day.”