As I sat on my comfy couch watching #9 Michigan St. take on #4 Michigan and G Trey Burke on his home court, I pondered the richness of a season that has produced a new normal – parity. What else to make of so many apparent upsets and the lack of a concensus true Number One. As I sit, Gonzaga is 29-2 and considered, however briefly, to be the best in the country. But with their comparatively weak schedule, Gonzaga seems more the pretender than the real deal. (This “comparatively weak schedule” comment has plagued many throughout NCAA Athletics.) Many basketball pundits feel as though this year will again be the reign of the Big 6 Conferences, which include the Big East, SEC, ACC, Big 10, PAC 12 and, well, the State of Kansas.
The Big 10 offered a beauty in Ann Arbor with the in-state rivalry game that has so much meaning for the Big 10 Tournament, which will get going next week. The Spartans came into the game with a better conference record but more overall losses. The Wolverines lost their last game against an unranked Penn State who played their best game of the season in winning by the respectable margin of 6, thereby staking its part in the upset theme. Michigan St. destroyed Michigan the last time they went head to head in Flint; in winning by 23 most saw that game as an upset. In that prior game, Michigan scored only 52 points with star Sophomore Trey Burke netting 18, 4, 3 and 2 rebounds. But on home court this time around, Michigan avenged the loss and in so doing put themselves in good position to control their circumstances in the tournament. If they can beat Indiana and Cody Zeller on Saturday, Michigan will likely be the top overall seed in the Big 10 tournament.
I watched Trey Burke dominate as a defensive wizard while he single handedly won the game with a steal and a layup to give his Wolverines the eventual winning score. On the next trip down the court Burke continued to disrupt Michigan State’s offense as he broke up the play that could’ve given MSU the win with a bucket. Burke stole the ball twice in the final 22 seconds to complete his masterful performance. Burke’s final numbers were 21, 8, 5 and 4 rebounds. His ability to control the offense without being careless will make him a fabulous college player for years to come unless he decides to leave. Burke’s leadership will control the Wolverine’s ability to stay dancing later this month.
With upsets being this season’s norm, March Madness pool winners are ever more likely be those who base their choices on uniform colors.