Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Expectations still high despite loss to Indiana

March 11, 2002
Head coach Tom Izzo watches the Spartans fall to Indiana 67-56 on Friday in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis, Ind. —

Indianapolis - The shadows of three consecutive Final Four appearances loom over the MSU men’s basketball team as it enters the NCAA Tournament as a No. 10 seed in the East region.

As last season came to a close at the Final Four in Minneapolis, many Spartan fans and alumni expected a fourth appearance this season. But the early departures of Zach Randolph and Jason Richardson to the NBA shattered the dreams of another Final Four.

The once lofty expectations that seemed boundless came crashing through the roof only to settle firmly in the basement.

But then it happened. The young MSU team started to gel, made a late surge to finish the regular-season one game back of the Big Ten title and expectations have risen again.

As fans and alumni prepare for tournament travel, the talk has begun. Can the Spartans make another run?

One may think MSU’s early exit in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament would cool such expectations, but that’s not so for 1954 graduate Dick White.

“I think it heightened expectations,” White said. “They learned their lesson, they learned how to be more intense and play better.”

White, who has traveled to every Big Ten Tournament and each of the Spartans’ Final Four appearances, said the general mood of fans and alumni didn’t falter with MSU’s 67-56 loss to Indiana Friday.

“I was a little disappointed,” he said. “I didn’t think the intensity was with our kids. I don’t quite understand why.

“Everyone I talked to was unhappy but came to the realization that we have some freshmen playing who aren’t used to this level of competition.”

As president of MSU’s Branch County Alumni Association, White said his expectations are “kind of high,” but admits he had his doubts.

“They diminished during the middle of the season before we finished with five wins in a row,” he said. “Most people think we can make a big run, but I don’t see any feeling of cockiness. Everyone thinks we have a tough road, but the outlook is good. Expectations are high but cautious.”

While many members of the association may be spoiled by the Spartans’ recent success, Gary Witzenburg’s outlook is in the minority.

Witzenburg, a five-year member of the alumni association, graduated from Duke but travels to all the tournament games with his wife, Jill, who went to MSU for two years.

Witzenburg said he rooted for MSU when it lost to Duke in the Final Four three years ago, but never has Final Four expectations for the Spartans besides always hoping they make it.

“You never expect the Final Four, no matter how good of a year they’re having,” he said. “It’s always a thrill and a pleasant surprise when you go there.

“My only guess is as a group (the alumni association’s) expectations are higher than mine. They expect good things and are more disappointed and more crushed when they don’t happen.”

CBS college basketball analyst Billy Packer said the Spartans probably aren’t paying attention to what outsiders say about them. But if they are, he said they shouldn’t expect to go far in the tournament.

“Why should they care?” Packer said. “If you’re in any way affected by expectations, even congratulations, it takes away from your focus. If it does have an effect, it’s because you weren’t going to win anyway.”

But junior forward Adam Ballinger said the team is motivated by trying to live up to past expectations.

“Three Final Fours, that’s what everyone sees,” Ballinger said. “That’s what they should see. We don’t have as good of a team, but we like the expectations because we see what teams built before us - we don’t want to let that slip up.”


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