[sunset]Disappointment: that\’s quite a heavy word to describe a sports team. But this kind of basketball team might not warrant the harsh label. We\’re talking about a team that consisted of 10 scholarship players, not one of which was a senior. A team that only returned one starter and saw three players from last year\’s squad move onto the NBA. A team that set a goal at the beginning of the season just to qualify for the NCAA tournament, \”the Big Dance,\” and made it there, as a No. 9 seed.
Despite an 8-8 record in Big Ten conference play, MSU\’s men\’s basketball team exceeded expectations on the court. The team had a great run until the season came to an end, with a loss to North Carolina in the second round of the NCAA tournament. As is true every year, some people will complain the Spartans failed to measure up to high standards. Because MSU is known for its rich basketball tradition, many consider this season to be a disappointment. But I\’m taking another approach.
If this team was ranked in the top 10 in the preseason polls and did not qualify for the NCAA tournament, then such criticism would be understandable. If this team had players who flunked out of school, got in trouble with the law or got suspended for fighting, then \”disappointment\” would be an appropriate label. But the Spartans came into this season unranked for the first time in nine years, and off the court, the team represented MSU in a positive and respectful manner. Perhaps this team didn\’t live up to the high expectations set every year for MSU basketball. But maybe those high expectations were the problem.
\”Overall, I think not being ranked high in the preseason can help a team,\” history sophomore Jeff Pinkston said. \”If MSU were ranked high at any point this season, then being a No. 9 seed in the tournament would probably be viewed as being a disappointment by most and could negatively affect their mindset heading into the tournament.\”
According to MSU Sports Information director Matt Larson, the last time the men\’s basketball team started a season unranked was the 1997-98 season – that year, the team also ended their season with a loss to UNC in the NCAA tournament. \”Since then, the last time I can think of that we weren\’t predicted to finish that high was the 2002 season,\” Larson said. \”However, we were still ranked in the preseason polls because people figured, \’Hey, it\’s Michigan State, they have to be good.\’\” That motto has stuck with the MSU basketball program to this day and probably will for years to come.
[hooping] During the 2006-07 season, the Spartans had a number of huge wins. One of the biggest victories of the season was the Nov. 16 match-up with Texas, who touted arguably one of the best players in the country, freshman Kevin Durant. In that game, junior Drew Neitzel hit the winning shot as time expired, and MSU was on the national radar.
In the two weeks after that big win, MSU lost two crucial games to Maryland and Boston College. After that, MSU dropped out of the college basketball national rankings and the word \”disappointment\” was heard across campus. The team had their chance to establish themselves amongst the top of college basketball\’s elite and they \”couldn\’t get it done.\”
Nearing the end of Big Ten play, the team played one of their most inspired games of the season, beating the No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers at the Breslin Center. After the win, the MSU faithful rushed the court in one of the most memorable moments since the 2000 championship run. The Spartans were again back on the good side of fans, but it wouldn\’t last for long. A week later, the Spartans fell to their arch rivals, U-M, and the word disappointment filled the air yet again. A loss to Wisconsin capped off the regular season, and the Spartans were given a No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament – a seeding many fans were not accustomed to seeing.
\”It was a goal of ours to make the tournament at the beginning of the year,\” said head coach Tom Izzo during a press conference following the tournament selection show. \”It was kind of a long-range goal at the time, and through the adversity of the injuries and the illness, and then the strength of that schedule, I think this team probably accomplished as much to get in as some have accomplished to get to the Final Four [one of the highest rounds of the tournament].\” Those are some big words from a man who certainly knows a little something about winning. During his reign as head coach, the Spartans have won a national championship and qualified for four Final Fours. Izzo might be referring to the team\’s play on the court, but it is what has been accomplished in other aspects that add to this team\’s significance.
[hoop]Although athletic performance and grades are not typically associated, one must look beyond this team\’s performance on the hardwood into the classroom. Izzo\’s team earned a high collective grade point average, especially when compared to past athletic teams at this university. \”If the 2007 NCAA men\’s basketball tournament were based on the graduation rates of the 65 participants, MSU would make it to the championship game, losing to Holy Cross,\” University Relations spokesman Terry Denbow said.
In past years, MSU has lost a number of players to the thrill and promise of an NBA career. Names like Marcus Taylor and Erzam Lorbek bring a foul taste to the mouths of many MSU faithful. While Taylor and Lorbek now struggle to find a place in the career of basketball, the players of this year\’s team have vowed to come back next year and reach the goals that MSU fans have been waiting for since the 2000 season.
\”The ultimate goal is always to win a national championship,\” human resource management junior Brad Jaffe said. \”People will always set high standards for this university because of our successful past.\”
So this off-season, as some Spartan fans grieve over the season that could have been, think more about the season that was. This season, the team entered the year unranked, beat the No. 1 team in the nation and a squad with one of the premier players in the nation. Remember the team that fought adversity and battled its way into the NCAA tournament, almost upsetting No. 1 seed UNC. Most importantly, remember the team who made staying out of trouble and getting good grades a top priority.
Good kids, good students and the hardest of workers: these words more aptly describe the men\’s basketball team than \”disappointment.\” Their dedication both on and off the court speaks volumes to the present team members and future of this program. Before tagging the D-word on this year\’s basketball team, think about it for a minute. It might be more fair to remember this team not for how they fell, but for how they rose.

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