SI in the locker room
Michigan State fearless of top-ranked Duke
Posted: Saturday March 27, 1999 12:28 PM
Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl checks in from St. Petersburg with a report from inside the locker rooms.
In the past week, the drumbeat to proclaim Duke champs before the games are even played has gotten louder and louder. How has that affected Michigan State?
Michigan State has no fear of anybody. That struck me last week before they played Kentucky. This is the second hottest team in the country, behind Duke. Behind the "blue-collar" tag, the Spartans' talent is underrated, but no one seems to know it but them. Peterson is a hell of a player. They beat you down the court. They're physical, but they combine that with quickness. These are the same players that would have gone to Michigan five years ago.
Antonio Smith, Tom Izzo's first prep commitment, told me Izzo wanted a "Fab Five" at Michigan State. It shows what kind of intentions Izzo had there from the start. I don't think they are that far talent-wise behind the Fab Five. But on the other hand, this group of Spartans is more consistent. And they won the Big Ten title twice.
Is Duke taking Michigan State lightly? Maybe a little bit. They've played before [on Dec. 3 in the Great Eight in Chicago]. If MSU didn't sleepwalk in the first 10 minutes, it might have beaten Duke. Remember, that game helped send Duke's Elton Brand to the bench for poor play, and Michigan State totally dominated the rebounding.
Do I revise my original prediction of Duke in favor of the Spartans? I wish I could . It's really going to be close. In fact, this game will be closer than the final.
Did players look star struck or intimidated by the scene?
You gotta keep in mind that I was talking to background players, like Ohio State's Jason Singleton, UConn's Jake Voskuhl and Michigan State's Morris Peterson. No one looked star-struck. I think they're pretty used to this by now. Maybe it's because we're in Florida and they got to spend time on the beach. But really, you have three No. 1 seeds and a No. 4. It's not like these guys haven't played big games this year.
I was sitting next to Voskuhl with a huge crowd of reporters, and they kept asking him, if the guards cancel each other out does it come down to the big men? He got asked that question about 12 times in 20 minutes, from reporters who obviously weren't around the first 11 times. Every time he got a little more surly. His general message was: No, five players play the game -- to start doing equations is silly.
Ohio State decided to hide away from everyone, staying far away in Tampa, in a place like Fort Knox (The Suites at Mainsail Village). I do think that Ohio State is kind of odd. It could come back to backfire on them. But in the end, everything has to do with what happens on the court.
By the way, the only team that is staying at its NCAA-given hotel is Michigan St. UConn and Duke went to nicer hotels (that are still pretty accessible). The Spartans are happy with their hotel. They're pretty blue-collar.Have there been any notable recent injuries?
For UConn, Kevin Freeman (ear infection) and Ricky Moore have been held out of practice recently. They practiced yesterday, so I don't think it will be too much of a problem. There are no real injuries I've heard of.
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