Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.
11/05/2007 12:30:00 PM
One Grand Upset
Grand Valley State had a lot to celebrate after defeating Michigan State at the Breslin Center.
Of the strange things that happened on the weekend before the season actually started -- namely, Darren Collison's knee scare (just a sprain, not a tear!), or Lute Olson's leave of absence (just a family issue, not retirement!) -- there was none more eye-opening than this score from Friday night: Grand Valley State 85, No. 8-ranked Michigan State 82, in double overtime.
After Grand Valley senior Callistus Eziukwu -- a 6-10, 220-pound center they call "Bean," which is short for stringbean -- scored the game's final basket, and then got a finger on Drew Neitzel's buzzer-beating, three-point attempt, the Lakers rejoiced on the Breslin Center floor. Most of the 14,759 in the sold-out building, save for the 300 or so Grand Valley supporters scattered throughout, went silent. Said senior L.J. Kilgore, whose defense helped hold Neitzel, a Wooden Award candidate who grew up 20 minutes from Grand Valley, to 3-of-15 shooting, "You could just see everybody in the crowd's mouths wide open. Like, 'Wow, Michigan State just got beat by this Division II basketball team.'"
It was only an exhibition game, and thus won't go down on the Spartans' permanent record. It was, however, an early blow to their reputation. Grand Valley State, located an 80-minute drive west of East Lansing in Allendale, isn't just any D-II opponent, mind you; it's a veritable Ohio State of the second division. The Lakers are currently ranked No. 1 nationally in football. Their basketball coach, Ric Wesley, has significant D-I experience as an assistant under Barry Hinson at Missouri State. Wesley led them to the Elite Eight last year -- and nearly knocked off the Spartans in an exhibition game last year in Grand Rapids. But there remain some very fundamental differences between the two schools.
This one is my favorite: Kilgore, like Neitzel, is from Grand Rapids, and had faced Neitzel twice in high-school AAU games, losing both. When I asked Kilgore on Saturday if anyone on his team grew up rooting for Michigan State, he said he not only owned a pair of Spartans shorts -- he was presently wearing them. "I'm not doing it to be funny -- they're just one of my favorite pairs of shorts," he said. "I've cheered Michigan State on since I was young." One would assume that no Spartans player owns a pair of Grand Valley trunks.
Kilgore was not alone among the Lakers in his MSU fandom. Eziukwu, who hails from Muskegon, was not wearing any green on Saturday, but said, "I've always been a fan of [Michigan State's] program. When they go to play whoever they play, I root for them. I just couldn't root for them last night." Again, will anyone at Michigan State be pulling for -- or even paying attention to -- Grand Valley during the rest of its season?
Kilgore said the toughest gym the Lakers play in during their regular season is at the University of Findlay, because "it gets so loud in there that it seems like a million people are against you." The attendance listed for last year's Grand Valley game at Findlay's Croy Gymnasium was 1,957 -- 12,802 fewer people than were at the Breslin Center on Friday. The Spartans are used to huge crowds, and coach Tom Izzo suggested afterwards that they were not exactly hyped for their first exhibition. "The effort," he said, was "most disappointing."
Rather than intimidating Grand Valley, the atmosphere seemed to elevate them. Said Wesley, "We're not fortunate enough to be in those environments, where you have 14,000 people every night, and we didn't take it for granted. It inspired us. It really energized our guys."
So much so that they pulled off the first great upset of 2007-08. Wesley made sure to add that he didn't want this to be the "defining moment" of the Lakers' season. Neither, I'm sure, does Izzo want it to be that for the Spartans, who did not look, in the least, like Big Ten favorites.
This upset would have a lot more validity if it wasn't an exhibition. Anyone who saw the game saw Izzo make a lot of interesting line-up choices. Neitzel and Morgan sat many minutes in the first half, two freshman were in the starting line-up to start the 2nd half, Izzo playes a 5 guard line-up, etc.
Give GVSU credit for playing MSU tough, but it would have been a much different game if MSU played its normal rotation.
Every D-1 coach makes "a lot of interesting choices" with his line-up, plays freshmen, and weird groupings in the one or two exhibition games, but hardly ever does the D-1 team get beat. Wow, so MSU could've beaten "Grand Valley State" (!)" - at home - if they'd played its normal rotation? Keep whistling past the graveyard, pal.
Its nothing to worry about. MSU does have a lot of new faces and it will take a month or two to get the right chemistry. Congrats to GVS, I have been there for a few football games and it is a fine small college atmosphere. Izzo will likely use this throughout the season to get his team up for lesser foes.
FYI, Last year's MSU/GVSU game was at a neutral court, Grand Rapids' Van Andel Arena. It is 25 minutes from GVSU and 60 minutes from MSU. MSU benefited from 3-4 questionable calls in the last 2 minutes of last year's game to win by 4. GVSU would not beat a D-1 school with scoring capability with the bigs. State's strength is the small forward and guard play. Live with the "J", die with the "J". GVSU just outplayed them, outcoached them and played with more passion. Oh, Go Green.
MSU, along with Drew Neitzel, is overrated. Neitzel is too small and too slow to lead MSU to any national success. Sure, he'll manage against the slow it down, slug it out teams, but any team that runs and guns well, or has a quick guard to put on him will smash them. How much different is this team from last year's one dimensional MSU team really? Seems like they are betting the farm on the new guys putting them over the top.
Grand Valley is not your average DII team. They have Missouri Valley type talent and we all realize by now that even the most talented teams can lose to mid-majors if they play badly. MSU played terribly(in addition to experimenting with lineups).
What a great victory for the GVSU basketball program! Hopefully this will drum up more interest in the team around the state of Michigan.
As far as why GVSU won the game Friday night...this was a matter of intensity. GVSU came into East Lansing on Friday to play the game of their lives, and that's what they did. After all, it's not often these boys play in a packed arena to a televised audience. The Lakers simply wanted this game more, and they got it.
Okay, I am an Illini fan who also happens to be an Izzo fan. However, line-up expermentation aside, this really highlights Michigan State getting a bump in the pre-season ratings due to their coach, not the talent on the court. Aside from Neitzel and Morgan, the rest are really untested and overhyped! I was mystified at their lofty pre-season rankings. The good news is, its exhibition, the bad news is they lost. A highly rated Major should never lose to a Div II team, EVER! Say what you want, this one hurts the basketball reputation of the Big Ten. As far as GVSU, congratulations, you knocked off and exposed a paper tiger.
How amusing it is to see the excuses fly. That is the difference between Big 10 basketball and ACC basketball. We pride ourselves on our teams and our understanding of them. We may gripe about a key bad foul call or non-call at the end of a game, but we don't make excuses. We know to look in the mirror, or hold our team up to the mirror. When Carolina struggled a few years ago, we said, "Yes, we stink and here is why . . ." No excuses. I don't think NC State is going to be as good as Wolfpack fans think, but they will be coming to visit MSU on the 28th. That will make at least 2 home losses for the Spartans on the season.
Yup, the good D2 teams are really good. Both Findlay (mentioned in the article) and GVSU are top 5 preseason D2 teams. Findlay gave Dayton fits on Thursday night (leading by as many as seven with seven minutes left in the game) , then went to Columbus on Tuesday and beat Ohio State. I saw them in Dayton; a team full of gym rats that sticks threes and doesn't make many mistakes. DI teams need to remember that for them it's just a tune up, but for these D2 guys it's an important game (and they can definitely play).
Wow I can't believe the first statement. (I assume this person is a state fan.) They used the rotation excuse for losing an exhibition to a D-2 school! What is your excuse going to be when state falls out of the top 25? State is overated every year, they love to choke just like there pathetic football teams.
I can't stand when people say they didn't play a regular lineup... Nietzel played 40 mins!!! he was 3-15, you mean to tell me he wasn't trying?
I go to GVSU so obviously I am happy they won, but anyone competitive will tell you that they don't like losing regardless... and if someone comes with the MSU wasn't trying because it was an exhibition, well GVSU was trying out new things as well since it was an exhibition
I watched the end of regulation of both the MSU-GVSU game and the OSU-Findlay game. I don't know what the lineups were for the first 3/4 of the games, but as the game winded down, they were playing what looked to be their best lineups.
MSU actually needed a friendly call and some home-court time-keeping just to force OT.
So while these were exhibitions and there was some experimentation as far as player rotations went, the fact that they played their best players at the end and couldn't get the job done is a little unsettling, I think.
These are two good coaches though, and they will use this as a learning experience for the players. A wake-up call, so to speak.
Personally, I think both MSU and OSU are a tad overrated to start with. MSU didn't lose anyone and added some nice freshmen, but none of the newcomers are superstar prospects. Their problems last year (turnovers and inconsistent frontcourt production) need to be fixed. I don't know if that will happen.
OSU simply lost too much. They bring in some good freshmen, but nothing close to the Oden-Conley-Cook combo of last year. They looked a bit slow against Findlay. People are touting OSU and a sleeper in the Big Ten, finishin as high as third. I think it's a rebuilding year (5th place) and that they'll improve as the season goes and sneak into the NCAA tourney.
Is their really nothing for writers to write about anymore that we stoop to talking about a meaningless exhibition game. I put this up their on the mantle of losing to the Harlem Globe Trotters, it just doesn't matter.
In the words of the A.I. "We talking bout exhibition, not the regular season, but exhibition. Not a game, exhibition. Were not talking about the actual games that matter. Were talking about exhibition man, what are we talking about, exhibition"
Even though I'm a Wolverines fan I still root for MSU basketball (it's not like we've had anything to root for in UM basketball for a while, though that might change soon.) But I've got to admit, I'm thrilled to have a comeback now for when my State friends bring up Appalachian State :P
this is to "Anonymous said"... who posted at 4:52 PM
You will be eating your words soon, get a clue. Do you even watch Michigan State Play? Do you know who Tom Izzo is ... what kind of coach he is?
I'd almost say he might've "planned" for this to happen to get his team back to reality ... them hearing all about them as a team "Michigan State will win the Big Ten" printed everywhere. Izzo is a genius, do not look past this very possible scenario.
Unlike you, I do watch Michigan State play ... GO GREEN!!!
Nice to see the MSU people owning up to the loss and congratulating the other team...unlike some other team in the state of MI that has to make excuses everywhere when they lose to someone with the initials of App State. Good job, Green!
GVSU has 25,000+ students...hardly a small school.
I'm a Spartan fan who will not make excuses for this game, though I'm also not going to worry about it. An early loss in basketball is meaningless in March, except Izzo will be able to use this loss as motivation for the rest of the season.
And give credit where credit is due: GVSU has an excellent athletics department. I was hoping MSU would hire Brian Kelley away from them before it hired John L. Smith, and though I like Dantonio, I was annoyed that MSU let Kelley get away again.
I love the people who mention the Izzo experimented with lineups. Check the box score and tell me Ric Wesley didn't do the same thing. He had 4 freshmen play significant minutes and it was their first game, too. I watched the whole game and GVSU was pretty much in control throughout. Now I'm not going to say that GVSU could beat MSU again this season, but I can tell you they could compete. What a great win and what a great time to be a Laker.
Looks like the Big Ten basketball season will mirror the Big Ten football season. Man, this conference has really not kept pace with the speed and athletesism you find in other conferences, especially the Pac 10 and SEC. I'm a Big Ten alum, we're getting used to being embarrassed!
What's the big deal? This game doesn't count. GVSU basically won a scrimmage. Yes it's an upset, but how big can it be if both teams are still 0-0? Exhibitions don't count against you, that's why you can experiment and such. It's embarrassing for MSU, that's about it. But I wouldn't get to worried unless MSU loses to Chicago State next week, then we've got a problem.
People can keep saying "it's only an exhibition" but the fact of the matter is not one player out there for Michigan State walked on the court and said "Oh, it's ok if we lose today." Not ONE. They all went out there looking for the victory, and they just plain got beat. You don't think every player out there was giving 100% in the last 10 minutes when they were down? Sure as hell they were. And those talking about lineups...so now you're saying MSU's recruited talent isn't as good as a Division 2 school's? Because guess what, GVSU had just as many true freshmen on the court at the end of the game as MSU did.