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Q&A: SI's Grant Wahl

Badgers ugly, but Spartans not much more impressive

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Posted: Saturday April 01, 2000 08:47 PM

  Wisconsin's Kirk Penney Kirk Penney and Wisconsin couldn't do much against Andre Hutson and MSU. AP

Sports Illustrated college basketball writer Grant Wahl chatted with from courtside at the RCA Dome after Michigan State's 53-41 victory over Wisconsin in the first game on Saturday. Was this one of the uglier games you witnessed this year?

Grant Wahl: Yes, by far. I can't think of any game that might have been uglier than this. In fact, it was probably the ugliest I've seen since I saw Wisconsin in last year's tournament score only 32 points against Southwest Missouri State.

It's weird, I cover soccer also, and if a soccer team just plays ridiculously defensive ball, they get booed out of the stadium. Yet no one seems to give Wisconsin much trouble for what they've created, and I know as a fan, I don't appreciate it at all. This is not how basketball is meant to be played, people don't pay to see defense. If I'm a coach from another school up in the stands watching this, I'm just wondering, "How did this team get here and I didn't?"

I guess that's just how they win. But as a result, this may have been the most forgettable Final Four game in many years. If you're Tom Izzo, are you just relieved to get this game over with?

Wahl: Yes, especially after the first half. They went 11:40 without a field goal and they were still ahead! It's not as if Mateen Cleaves had a very good game, though maybe he just needed to get the nerves out of him. It's not the most encouraging performance by Michigan State. It's good for them to get it out of the way, but that's really the only positive you can say about it. People talked all week about the fact they played each other three times. Did knowing each other so well end up helping at all?

Wahl: I think it helps. Think about Princeton. Their back-doors never work in the Ivy League because everyone knows how to defend it and everyone knows it's coming. Likewise, Wisconsin did really well against teams that didn't know the Badgers, teams like Arizona and LSU, but they had a tougher time with Purdue, and obviously a lot harder against Michigan State. Familiarity makes it a lot harder for a team that has a gimmick, whether it's Princeton or Wisconsin. It was kind of an even game at halftime. What was the difference in the second half?

Wahl: Morris Peterson. He came out, wanted the ball, hit shots and fought to the ball. Cleaves is supposedly their go-to guy, but based on what I saw in this game, it's Peterson. I wasn't too impressed with what Cleaves was able to do here. I hadn't seen him live in a little while. I know he's a winner, but this was not one of his best games. What does Michigan State need to work on between now and Monday?

Wahl: A lot of that's going to depend on who they're playing. They can play at both speeds, they can play a lot faster than this. I don't think it will be as frustrating as this was, unless they run into problems with the press.

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