I’ve had an interesting and fun weekend. Friday night I had dinner with Michael Shermer and then heard him speak at Michigan State University. Though I’ve written articles for Skeptic, the magazine he publishes, twice, this is the first time we’d met in person. He gave a very amusing and interesting talk to a nearly full house of almost 600 people.
Saturday afternoon I met up with friends to go to the green-white scrimmage for the MSU basketball team. As my longtime readers know, I am a college basketball fanatic and a lifelong MSU fan, so I was excited to get a look at the Spartans’ new freshmen big men, Derrick Nix and Garrick Sherman, as well as their long-term project Tom Herzog.
At least one of those three has to step up and become a reliable 5th starter if MSU has any chance of going back to the Final Four because Goran Suton, Marquise Gray and Idok Ibong all graduated and left a huge hole in the middle. Delvon Roe should have a breakout sophomore season at power forward, but one of the two freshmen or Herzog, who got to MSU at 7’1 and about 155 pounds, has to provide some rebounding and defense.
Herzog has put on some weight, but he’s still pretty thin. He also has no shot whatsoever. He’s going to have a difficult time holding his position in the low post and, based on what I saw in this game, is not ready for a serious spot in the rotation yet (which means he likely never will be, since he’s already a 4th year junior). He’s better than he was two years ago, but he isn’t ready for Big Ten play.
Derrick Nix has lost a great deal of weight since high school. Last year as a senior he played at well over 300 pounds, some reports having him over 330. He was still Michigan’s Mr. Basketball for the year. They say he’s down to about 285 now and that looked about right. He’s a classic big man, sets up strong and wide in the post and isn’t going to be pushed out. And he has very soft hands for a man his size and nice touch around the basket. He’s going to get some serious playing time and he looked to be clearly the best of the three.
Garrick Sherman is also 6’9″ and he goes a solid 250. He appears to be less talented than Nix but he’s in better shape and he definitely looked like he belonged on the court. I expect he’ll platoon with Nix coming off the bench most games as the Spartans will, at least for most games early in the year, start a three guard lineup with Raymar Morgan at the 4.
The Spartan backcourt is loaded again this year. Kalin Lucas should be an all-American at point guard; he’s the returning Big Ten player of the year. Chris Allen, Durrell Summers and Korie Lucious are all very good players. And Lucious, though he backs up Lucas at the point, is going to be very difficult to keep off the floor. Heck, even their 5th backcourt player, Austin Thornton, is pretty damn good (and probably the best shooter on the team).
But my favorite player on this team may be Draymond Green. This guy just has great basketball instincts. He came on strong last year in the second half of his freshman season and Izzo just could not keep him on the bench for one simple reason: When Green was on the court, good things happened. He always seems to be where the ball is and always seems to make the important play – a deflection, a tip in, an offensive rebound to keep the team in the game. He’s undersized at 6’6″ to be a power forward, but he can play the 3 as well. He’s a great passer as well. He’s just one of those glue guys that every great team has to have. He’s not going to start, but he’ll be in there when it matters.
After the basketball scrimmage, we went to the MSU-Iowa football game, which was a heartbreaking loss marred by controversial officiating. It had been 2 or 3 years since I’d been to an MSU football game. I got to my seat just in time to see the marching band come highstepping into the stadium, which still gives me chills – I’m sure because it evokes memories of my childhood.
They play a lot of music over the loudspeakers now and some of it was surprising. Like at one point they played Hava Neguila, which then morphed into the cavalry charge on the trumpet. A strange combination. It also reminded me of how annoying some sports fans could be. One guy behind us kept yelling “face mask” every time one of our guys got tackled – even if it happened 90 yards away on the other end of the field where he couldn’t possibly see it.
But one big call really was bad and it may have cost MSU the game. One of MSU’s defensive backs put a great hit on an Iowa wide receiver and just laid the guy out. No flags were thrown on the play, but the receiver didn’t get up. While he laid there, a full minute or two after the play ended, suddenly the referee called unnecessary roughness on MSU and gave them a first down.
They were pinned down in their own territory at 3rd and 7 and suddenly they’ve got a first down and end up hitting a field goal that was the difference in the game. If you didn’t call the penalty during the play, you can’t suddenly decide there was a penalty just because a player was hurt. It was a terrible, terrible call and Coach Dantonio was rightly incensed about it.
All in all, it was a fun day. Now I get to spend the next couple days here as well doing other things.