Saturday, March 2, 2024

Spartans take care of business

Junior guard Kalin Lucas goes up for a shot against Michigan guard
Zack Novak in the second half of Sunday’s game at Breslin Center.
Lucas scored 10 points in the Spartans’ win 64-48, earning them a
share of the Big Ten regular season title.

Photo by Lauren Wood | The State News

As the banner commemorating the MSU men’s basketball team’s second straight Big Ten title and sixth during head coach Tom Izzo’s Hall of Fame career ascended to the ceiling, the Spartan Brass proudly played MSU Shadows, the university’s alma mater.

The only tune more appropriate would have been the rock ballad from Bachman-Turner Overdrive: Takin’ Care of Business.

In an up-and-down campaign filled with adversity, gritty wins, ugly losses and the ankle sprain heard ‘round the world, that banner will be characterized by a team that fought through to capitalize when it mattered most.

Izzo addressed the crowd before lifting the banner to the rafters and put it perfectly.

“I said at the beginning of the year, we had a chance to win a Big Ten championship,” Izzo said. “Maybe it didn’t go all like we wanted, but promise me, please enjoy it. Because it’s not an easy feat these days.”

If it’s good enough for the Spartans’ toughest critic, it should be good enough for anybody.

Consider what the Spartans endured, just on the surface. The benching of their star player, junior guard Kalin Lucas, before he went down with an ankle injury that sidelined him during an excruciating stretch of games. Besides another handful of distractions and issues, the Spartans endured that once-in-a-lifetime stretch that included six of eight home games without resigning their top spot in the conference.

It’s hard to believe there’s another team in the conference that could handle such adversity.

“It’ll probably go down as the rewarding-est of the six championships just because of all the things we battled through this year,” Izzo said. “Every year has its own group of issues. Good things and bad things. But this year, we just kind of kept punching forward.”

The Spartans have been razzed for not having quality wins and for under-achieving, often at home. But for a team that finished with just two road losses in conference play and a conference title, there isn’t much to gripe about.

MSU doesn’t have an embarrassing loss on paper. Home defeats came at the hands of two top-10 teams who the Spartans will share the trophy with and are both in contention for NCAA Tournament No. 1 seeds. They arguably beat every team they should have — at home and on the road — in conference play.

“I’ve admitted to you that it’s been harder,” Izzo told the media. “The ironic part about when you go through hard things and you accomplish something, I think the journey was the toughest, the reward might be the greatest.”

It was a season with a scattering of what-ifs. What if Lucas hadn’t been hurt during that tough stretch? What if senior forward Raymar Morgan plays like he’s playing now — all the time? What if junior guard Durrell Summers performed consistently or sophomore center Delvon Roe was healthy?

That U-M team — once a top-20 squad and NCAA Tournament lock — that hurried back onto the highway probably won’t even be knocking on the NIT door in a week. Such what-ifs should leave Spartan fans pleased with the turnout of a season that could have more promise yet.

“We got a championship,” sophomore forward Draymond Green said. “No matter how we did it. We had some tough stretches, but everybody had some tough stretches this season. That’s how it went. Our main goal was to get a Big Ten championship and we got it.”

So place a check by the Spartans’ first goal of the season. Next, they head to Indianapolis to try their hand at the conference tournament title, fully within reach.

After that, an attempt at a sixth final four in the last 12 years.

Business as usual.

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