You’ve gotta crawl before you can dance, and Michigan State turned up to a 78-58 throttling of Miami threatening to show its age. And its underpants.
The Spartans meandered. They stumbled. They bobbled. They were soiling themselves on national television, the way Big Dance toddlers do.
Of The Diaper Gang’s first five possessions of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, three were turnovers. Before the last contest of the night in Tulsa was three minutes old, Sparty’s kids were down 7-0 to the eighth-seeded Hurricanes.
But a funny thing happened on the way to Bracketville purgatory: It stopped. The meandering. The stumbling. The bobbling. The soiling.
The Spartans went from diapers to dandies, finishing the first half on a 25-7 run, flipping the script as easy as flipping a switch.
Freshman forward Nick Ward couldn’t miss (19 points, 7 rebounds). Freshman guard Cassius Winston discovered second sight (7 points, five assists). Freshman sensation Miles Bridges (18 points, 9 boards) remembered there were pro scouts watching.
Michigan State spent eight minutes digging a handy little ditch for itself.
Only Gang Green turned around and decided to whack ‘Canes coach Jim Larranaga over the head with it, then proceeded to push the poor sod into the hole.
Or, for you Michael J. Fox fans, the last 12 minutes of the first half were not unlike the scene in the movie “Back to The Future” in which Marty McFly has his guitar in one hand and oblivion in the other. You know. The one in which he’s threatening to fade from existence unless his future father — ask your parents kids, it’s a classic — cowboys up and wins his heart of his future mom at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance:
Welcome back to the party, Sparty McFly. And now it’s the ‘Canes who have to make like a tree, and … oh, never mind. Go stream the thing.
For 32 minutes, the Spartans (20-14) were the Spartans of old — or the March Spartans of old, at any rate, always two passes ahead, always first to the 50-50 balls, always in the right spot, outboarding Miami 36-23 as a team and running the 8 seed out of the gym.
Is the genie out of the bottle for good? Or was an up-and-down roster in an up-and-down campaign teasing us again? Michigan State was lightning, streaking and striking with relentless precision, the ceiling raised again, and spectacularly. In fact, it eerily resembled what 1 seeds and 2 seeds normally do to the poor directional saps on the undercard.
Which brings us to Sunday and top-seeded Kansas, two bluebloods meeting a weekend earlier than how the bracket gods usually draw it up. The coaching matchup is box office enough, given the history between Tom Izzo and Bill Self and the respective chess pieces they’re bringing to the board this time around.
Sparty’s kids against Self’s two-headed veteran backcourt duo of Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham; a high-flying wing in Detroit native Josh Jackson; and a classic Jayhawks rim protector in senior center Landen Lucas. The Midwest regional final is in Kansas City, KU’s backyard, a narrative designed to write itself.
Then again, you know what they say about best intentions. And about Izzo and the second weekend of the Dance.