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This blog was started with the intention of keeping track of the books that I read. The initial goal was two-fold; it would help me remember what I read and my friends that borrow books from me would be able to see what books I liked.  Although those goals still stand, I have found that I enjoy writing these blogs, and only wish that I could write more frequently. Alas, although I read quickly, I don’t read quickly enough to kick out more than a review every week or two.

Over the last few days, I have had thoughts that I’ve wanted to write down, but wasn’t sure where to put them.  Well, I think the time has come to expand “Judging a Book by its Cover” to more than just a book review site.  At the very least, I’m going to write about the Michigan State Spartans today, and we’ll see in the future if other non-book related thoughts spring forth.

I’ve zealously watched Spartan basketball this year. I think part of it has been my lack of interest in the NFL, thanks to the Lions for perfecting losing, and the transformation of the NBA from a basketball league to the something akin to the WWE, just with basketballs instead of pile-drivers.  That leaves the Red Wings and Spartan basketball to fill my sports fix during a long and cold winter.

The team clad in Green and White has had an up and down season.  They’ve shown flashes of brilliances and stretches of complete mediocrity.  The typical game goes something like this.

First Half:  Play as many players as possible in as many odd and seemingly useless combinations imaginable. If a player starts to do well, immediately substitute for them.  Do everything you can to keep from building a lead, but at the same time, keep the game tight.  If possible, throw the ball away or forget to dribble.

Second Half: Continue the strategy from the first half for the first five minutes.  With fifteen minutes to go, realize that the game is on the line turn on the defensive pressure. Utterly shut down the opposing team’s offense for the next ten minutes of the game, while finding a different player to step up down the stretch and make plays on offense.  Let the game get close at the end before pulling out the victory.

The games against Louisville and Connecticut exemplified this strategy, and somehow it just keeps working.  Not only that, but they are doing it better now than they have all year.

The great thing about this team is that they don’t have one or two star players that have to perform well in order for them to win.  Kalin Lucas is probably as close as they get.  At the least, he has to not turn the ball over and get other people the ball so they can score.   But look at the unlikely heroes that have turned up this tournament.  

Travis Walton scores a career high against USC.  Goran Suton destroys everyone in his path during the Sweet 16 weekend.  At the same time, Draymond Green came out of nowhere and has been playing exceptional basketball during the tournament.  Who wasn’t excited to find out last night during the Connecticut game that his nickname is the “Dancing Bear”?  It should be another three great years watching him with that knowledge.

And to cap the run of improbable stars, Korie Lucious, the pint sized freshman who to this point in the tournament had started more fast breaks for the other team than for the Spartans, dropped in a floater when there wasn’t anyone on the floor that was looking to score, and followed it up two threes and a three shot trip to the free throw line.  

But that wasn’t all. Raymar Morgan emerged to, for at least this one game, play up to the hype.  Although many proclaim him the leader and star of the team, I just haven’t ever seen it.  Last night, though, he stepped up and played wonderfully.  Let’s hope he keeps the mask, ala Rip Hamilton, and it leads to another great game against North Carolina.

The experts continue to discount the heart and desire that this Michigan State team has.  They aren’t loaded with future NBA starts like UConn, Louisville, and North Carolina.  What they do well is play to the other teams weakness. They play slow when the opposition wants to run. They run when the other team wants to go slow. Did you see how many times Thabeet was still at halfcourt when a Spartan raced by him to score last night?  That wasn’t an anomoly. The Spartans look to run off of made baskets and have done it all year.

 They will pound the offensive glass and wear you down with hard-nosed man to man defense.  It isn’t always pretty. It isn’t even always exciting.  But the last three games have been very memorable.

It also doesn’t hurt that this is the 30th anniversary of the NCAA title game that helped propel college and pro basketball to new heights.  Having the living legend, Erving “Magic” Johnson, on your sidelines and in your practices can only be a good thing.  

I don’t know who will win on Monday. I certainly hope it will be Michigan State. They’ll have a loud crowd on their side, and the experts against them, so there is reason to hope.  Someone will step up and have a great game.  It may be Walton, it certainly could be Lucas.  Perhaps Summers will dunk over Hansbrough like he did over Stanley Robinson.  I have a feeling, though, that when State needs someone to step up, they will.  And they will give North Carolina all they can handle.


Want to learn more about Bird and Magic, check out “When the Game Was Ours.” coming out in November.