Bankers Life Fieldhouse

Indianapolis, IN

#2 Michigan State is 27-5 and only eight wins away from their declared goal of a Big Ten Tournament & NCAA Tournament title. They are in my opinion and the opinions of pundits far and wide the best “TEAM” in the Big Ten. But team doesn’t always equal talent. As good as MSU is, the Maryland Terrapins are the most talented.

Maryland makes no sense. As individuals they are so good, but they lack the team heart that makes MSU so deadly. Whereas MSU has great players, they are so much exponentially bettered by the sum of their parts and Maryland plays a team game like a group of individuals.

Most schools would be going crazy (in a good way) to be ranked #18 in the nation with a 27-5 record (same as MSU) on the season as Maryland is. Most schools. At Maryland the bar is high and the tradition extraordinary.

If you were to ask Tom Izzo right now if Maryland was the most talented in the Big Ten and one of the most in the nation he would say yes. I agree with him.

MSU beat the Terrapins back on January 23 by a score of 74-65.

Maryland is so talented, that they often just manhandle teams in to submission. That works on teams like Indiana and Rutgers, but it doesn’t on Michigan State.

Melo Trimble for Maryland is one of the nation’s best players. He said last night after his team took out Nebraska some strong words that if accurate, should concern Michigan State. “We forget about the regular season. We just moved on to that. We just talked about having fun. I guess whenever we thought about the regular season, our last loss was to Indiana. We were down on ourselves and everybody was down on ourselves. So this week, we’re just about having fun. And yesterday probably had even more fun, and it carried over to the game. And that’s how we played.”

What is so dangerous with a Maryland is that their talent can take over a team and their opponents wilt. There are two big keys to winning this game and both favor the Spartans.

First you must make this a full 40 minute game. Maryland as mentioned is very talented, but not very patient. Again they are a talented group of individuals. Whereas MSU leads the nation in assists, Maryland will often take bad shots. That works IF they aren’t making them. Because of that talent they can get on a roll making bad shots and there is NOTHING you can do about that.

Second is defensive intensity. Fight. Now I certainly don’t mean literally, but one thing that stands out to me watching Maryland so much this season is a lack of heart. Are they willing to punch back and do the ugly things like fall on the floor for a loose ball and play with the defensive will it takes to stop MSU?

If you are jacking shots and making them then you are golden. Anyone can do that. But on a bad shooting night because the other team is playing great defense can you win with the intangibles. Several times this year teams took a Maryland punch and never punched back. MSU will. Often.

Maryland strikes me as a team figuratively that inherited all their talent and didn’t work and earn it. They are great from the front and with all of that talent they are often in the lead. But will they play 40 minutes of a brutal Big Ten war.

The more exhausting, physically tough and difficult this game is, the more the Spartans get engaged. Where Maryland loves athletic type games, MSU embraces banging bodies, diving on the floor, exhaustion and physical pain. The Spartans LOVE it.

I mentioned while being interviewed this morning on various radio shows around the nation that Maryland strikes me as a team that would gladly take a dip in the country club pool while MSU wants to swim in the leach infested, alligator full pond dug in someone’s backyard. This is country club vs. country. Blue collar vs. white collar.

Does Maryland have the heart of a Spartan if this game is tough, or even if MSU has early success? I don’t think so.

Don’t mistake that as can’t win. If Maryland gets their mindset together they could win the national title. They are that good.

Terrapin Jake Layman said of the Spartan attack, “They play fast. We are going to try to slow them down tomorrow a little bit and see if that works for us. They’re playing well right now. It’s going to be a fun game.”

Diamond Stone also said last night of the Spartans that their key is not with the shooting prowess everyone admires, but “They crash the glass hard, 4s and 5s. They’re on the glass, all night last game. And this week of practice we’re usually working on boxing out and controlling the boards.”

Trimble added of the Spartans, “They crash the boards hard. They are a very good transition team on offense. Like Jake said, we’re going to try to slow them down, and they’re very disciplined on defense. We just have to let the offense work.”

The Spartans vs Maryland game tips off at 3:30 right back here in Indianapolis at the semifinals for the Big Ten Tournament. That game can be seen on CBS!