For the fourth time in seven years, Michigan State is two games away from winning a college basketball national championship.
In that same span, Michigan has been absent from tournament brackets entirely — unless you count three NIT appearances.
While exchanging instant messages with a friend from Michigan State on Sunday, I was informed that students had already begun celebrating the Spartans’ most recent Final Four bid.
“Everybody is drunk here,” she said, six days before Michigan State will face North Carolina in St. Louis.
Police in riot gear have already arrived on campus. Lucky.
The dichotomous nature of the two in-state “big time” college basketball programs — Michigan and Michigan State — has been quite obvious the past seven seasons.
Average wins per season for Michigan State: 25. Average wins per season for Michigan: 14.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has recruited five Mr. Basketball award winners from the state of Michigan in the past seven years. Dion Harris was the first honoree to attend Michigan since Robert Traylor in 1995.
While it’s no secret that Spartys are hoop-dreamers, to what extent do Michigan students regard Michigan basketball? And how do they rate Amaker and Izzo as coaches (see box below for results)?
I ventured to the Michigan Union last night to find out.
I conducted a very informal survey (given time restraints and a budget). My sample of Michigan students wasn’t completely random or bias-proof. But it was telling.
Keep in mind, Amaker is big on how Michigan basketball is perceived by the “Michigan community.” He should care what the students think, even if it is just 30 of them eating dinner or studying at the Union.
The sample consisted of 19 males and 11 females. Twenty-two students were Michigan residents.
Just four of 30 Michigan students said Amaker should be fired this off-season. I found this a little surprising.
Sure, Amaker studied from the best (Coach K), inherited postseason sanctions, fielded a once-hyped, injury-depleted team the past year and won an NIT championship. Plus, he’s a grade-A face man for Michigan athletics.
But he’s amassed a paltry 64-60 record in four seasons at Michigan. His most-prized recruit, Daniel Horton, was suspended for legal trouble this past season. The Wolverines finished 13-18 this year. In eight seasons as a Division I coach (he spent four years at Seton Hall before coming to Michigan), Amaker has led a team to the NCAA Tournament just once. (For the record, it took Coach K nine seasons as a coach at both Army and Duke to reach an NCAA Tournament.)
But this is Michigan. Expectations are high.
If Lloyd Carr led the football team to just one BCS game the past seven seasons, he’d be gone. I don’t buy the “Michigan is a football school” excuse.
Nonetheless, we want to keep Amaker.
I also found that Michigan students attended an average of about two basketball games this season. Seventeen of the 30 students said they didn’t go to a single game.
Just 33 percent of students could name at least three members of the Michigan basketball team. Horton was by far the name mentioned most. One student thought his first name was Tim, like that restaurant in the Michigan League. Can’t blame this one on Amaker. However, 45 percent of those polled believed the Michigan Athletic Department doesn’t do enough to advertise the men’s basketball program (31 percent said it did and 24 percent did not have an opinion).
Go ahead and criticize my survey method. Disregard Michigan students’ disregard for Michigan basketball. But the data shows that Michigan students don’t care much for their basketball team these days. Those younger students — who will ride high expectations into next season (and maybe into Crisler Arena) — couldn’t even watch the Big Ten home opener on their dorm-room televisions this season.
Our apathy for Michigan basketball can’t be shouldered solely by Amaker, the players or the Athletic Department — there isn’t any one entity to blame.
But when riot police are needed in East Lansing, we want to blame them all.
Eric is going to East Lansing this weekend to enjoy the Final Four atmosphere he never could in four years at Michigan. Eric Ambinder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tommy vs. Tom
Students were asked to rate the quality of Tommy Amaker and Tom Izzo in the following areas on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being lowest quality and 10 being highest quality. Students who were unsure did not answer the question. The results below are from 16 students who answered the question fully.
Category: Tommy Amaker Tom Izzo
Coaching ability: 6.1 (out of 10) 9.1
Charisma: 7.1 8.2
Recruiting ability: 5.2 8.6
Appeal to students: 6.4 9.3
Image: 7.3 8.6