Friday, June 21, 2024

Late-season losses concern for Spartans

Joe Terry

As the MSU women’s basketball team waits to hear its NCAA Tournament fate tonight, it has a lot to look forward to in what could be an exciting postseason.

How well the Spartans do in the coming weeks has a lot to do with which MSU team shows up. Will it be the team that has looked like giant killers, grinding down Ohio State and Purdue to submission, winning games even without a true point guard? Or will it be the Spartans who threw away their chances at a long March run with another 20-plus turnover game, as they did twice against a smaller and less-skilled Wisconsin squad?

The team has been an enigma ever since the loss of sophomore point guard Brittney Thomas to a season-ending knee injury Feb. 6, struggling to find someone to run the point, finding a combo that works, then playing horribly the next game the grouping shows up on the floor.

In the first game without Thomas, MSU surprised Ohio State, meticulously attacking the lane and pulling down rebounds with ease with a super big lineup featuring five starters over 6-foot-1. Then, after wins at Indiana and home against Michigan, as the team moved into first place in the Big Ten, the team didn’t show up for a game at Wisconsin, taking off the first 10 minutes of a game and ended up losing by three points.

After another bad loss to Minnesota, in which the Spartans, the biggest, most physical team in the league, got bullied around and lost by 15 points, the team made another switch to focus on defense against Purdue and beat up the Boilermakers, winning on a last-second shot.

I expected that maybe the team that just beat the second best team in the league, a team that found another lineup that works, especially against a pressing team, would breeze by the same Wisconsin team it vowed vengeance against for losing to only a week before. But somehow, that team showed up for the first half and gave away the second half, literally, giving up bad turnovers that the Badgers converted to easy points.

Even as bad as the loss was, the one thing MSU has shown consistently this season is an uncanny ability to bounce back. The Spartans lost consecutive games only twice all season, and will be hosting the opening two rounds of the NCAA Tournament this weekend at Breslin Center.

Still, although the Spartans will possibly be the home team this weekend, they more than likely won’t be favored in any of the matches. With the loss in the Big Ten Tournament, MSU has dropped three of its last four games, and will most likely only garner anywhere from a No. 9 to a No. 12 seed, all games that would favor its opponents.

There is also a slight chance the Spartans won’t get into the NCAA Tournament at all, a feeling they know all too well from having to suffer through it last season. MSU would surely be a favorite to make another long run in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament, but I’d bet my college tuition (shout-out to Courtney Paris) that’s not where it wants to be playing this weekend.

As of Sunday, ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme had the Spartans getting in as a No. 10 seed, matched against the No. 7 seed and eventually playing the No. 2 seed in the Raleigh region. The seeding is pretty reasonable, and more than likely dead on, but it remains until tonight to be seen who will be visiting East Lansing this weekend.

MSU has the talent to get out of town for next weekend, making the Sweet 16 and becoming a Cinderella story, but the team will need to play like it did against Purdue and Ohio State. The old Spartans that grinds down teams in the paint and rebounds every ball within 5 feet of the concourse needs to show up and have upset on their mind. The one thing that’s certain is that the crowd will show up this weekend, now the Spartans need to follow suit.

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