I”ve had a lot of cinematic fantasies about what could happen tonight and beyond.
For instance after a recent stint of improved play, Michigan finally arrives, bests the defending National Champions and rides its new found faculties to the NCAA tournament and beyond.
Unfortunately, I can”t think of any reality-based precedence for such an event. Zeroes-to-heroes stories don”t occur within a sports season unless you”re renting “Major League.”
Even if the Wolverines play the game of a lifetime and succeed, they”re just 4-4 in the Big Ten a long way from the promised land, March Madness.
But if Michigan can upset the Spartans tomorrow, it could at least go a long way towards reinvigorating the program.
A canyon has somehow developed between these neighboring rivals in a very short amount of time. Of course I recall tales of early departees for the NBA, Ford Explorer accidents and some prospects from Flint that panned into national champions. But it just seems amazing that Michigan State has reached the pinnacle so quickly while Michigan keeps bottoming out.
These programs have been polar opposites since they met in Ann Arbor a year ago winners and losers.
An analysis of the gap:
Michigan State is fighting for a No. 1 seed in the Tournament while Michigan is fighting for any postseason play.
Tom Izzo has become the nation”s coaching poster-boy, while Brian Ellerbe”s position is insecure and his relation with the media is lukewarm.
The Spartans have a more talent-laden squad.
Michigan State is out-recruiting Michigan and the Spartans are viewed nationally as the superior program.
The Wolverines now suffer from the same syndrome as Michigan State football. As Michigan attempts to make basketball progress, everything will be measured against the Spartans.
The harsh reality has finally sunk in around town, and Michigan people no longer retort when confronted with their basketball instate inferiority.
But the bright side is that tables can turn quickly they could turn with just one win for Michigan.
With a victory tonight, the Wolverines are on a roll and back in the NCAA tournament stratosphere. It”s a national statement to recruits, media and competitors reports of Michigan”s demise have been exaggerated. And this one victory could close the book on Michigan”s year-long tale of suffering.
The flip side of the coin is that a loss buries the Wolverines further into their subordinate role. Of Michigan”s current players, only Josh Asselin has ever beaten the Spartans. Another loss means that Michigan”s image as the state”s second-best basketball team is further implanted in the minds of the nation.
All this adds up to a make-or-break game for the Wolverines in terms of the season and in terms of rehabilitation.
One of Ellerbe”s favorite things to preach is that one game is just that the meaning of a single contest shouldn”t be overemphasized.
It doesn”t do much good for his team to get caught up in hype or forecasting.
I can empathize with this line of thinking.
Still, I believe the Michigan players realize the magnitude of the approaching contest, even compared to other rivalry games.
I think they are quite aware that the Wolverines need a bridge between the unsatisfactory present and a potentially bright future, and that this game could have immeasurable repercussions.
Dan Williams can be reached