Print and Go Back ESPN.com: College Basketball Nation [Print without images]

Wednesday, January 8, 2014
OSU-MSU starts appetizing B1G season

By Chantel Jennings


EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Count it as a win for basketball that, after one of the most exciting comebacks, finishes and overtimes this season, both coaches stood at the podium, brows furrowed, voicing their disappointments about their respective teams.

Count it as a win that Tom Izzo wasn’t happy with No. 5 Michigan State’s 72-68 win over No. 3 Ohio State. Or that Thad Matta wasn’t pleased with the 20-3 run his Buckeyes accomplished in the final 10 minutes of regulation, forcing overtime. Or that you couldn’t find a smile on a Spartan or a Buckeye. Count it as a win that nobody who actually took part in the game was happy.

Count all that as a win because it means that Big Ten basketball is back, living up to its billing yet again.

No, it wasn’t always pretty. The basketball was far from perfect.

Ohio State went 4-for-18 from 3-point range. Michigan State was outrebounded 42-28. The Buckeyes started slow and couldn’t find an answer as the Spartans jumped out to a 55-38 lead. But then MSU choked that up -- badly.

Adreian Payne
Adreian Payne
“I should be happier than I am,” Izzo said. “But I’m a big-picture guy and you shouldn’t have those kind of letdowns no matter what the other team does.”

Both teams’ highs were high and their lows were low, but when it was working and when the teams were on, it was really fun.

It’s extremely early in the season. There’s time for Ohio State to work on switching defenses, and there’s time for the Spartans to get healthy and figure out their rotation.

So much can happen between now and March, but the fact that it’s so good so soon has to mean something, right?

Because on the first full day that college football was over, a day that it would still seem appropriate to be discussing Jameis and Tre, Jimbo and Gus, a night that was just 24 hours removed from crowning the national champion in football, all eyes were on a green-and-white gymnasium in East Lansing -- a gymnasium that possibly held the eventual national champion.

This was just two games into the Big Ten season, making for one heck of an appetizer to the conference slate.

Sure, the nonconference schedule featured matchups with talented teams and some trips to tropical locations, but this is what it’s all about: the bitter, Midwestern cold and the refuge found inside a gymnasium with gritty, hard-nosed basketball.

Big Ten basketball is back, and on Tuesday night, the Spartans and Buckeyes confirmed to everyone that this is the conference to watch.

“You know, it just keeps coming,” Matta said. “We’ll build on the positives from this game and we’ll correct the negatives. We’ll get ready to go again, because it doesn’t get any easier.”

The Buckeyes play No. 20 Iowa, then travel to Minneapolis to play a hungry Golden Gophers team that came dangerously close to knocking off Michigan. Before the season is over, they’ll have road games at Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Penn State and Indiana before closing out the regular season with, you guessed it, Michigan State.

And the Spartans get Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Iowa before the month of January is over.

Week after week, these teams get the chance to pick up marquee wins in tough venues. Week after week there will be reason to be thankful that Big Ten basketball is back. And it’ll leave basketball fans wanting more.

Because even after everyone got five extra minutes of Ohio State and Michigan State last night, most people wished it would’ve gone into double or triple overtime. That’s how good it was.

That’s how much people wanted to watch Aaron Craft on Keith Appling and Gary Harris. That’s how much people wanted to see Adreian Payne -- who didn’t even think he’d play today because of injury -- go to work. That’s how much people wanted to take in Matta and Izzo’s chess match and the ensuing foot stomps and glares.

The coaches can be upset right now because they know the potential of these groups and they know better than anyone how far Tuesday’s product was from that. They see it every single day in practice; the rest of us have to wait until game days to take it in.

But having the coaches this upset at this point means that even the good we saw this week is far from the good we could see in March. And if that’s the case, we’re in for one heck of a ride the next few months.

“Hopefully, by tomorrow I’m going to say, ‘Thirty-some minutes we played damn good,’" Izzo said. “I think I’ll appreciate the win more tomorrow. It ain’t going to be tonight, though. Promise you that.”

Matta, Izzo, Appling and Craft can all be unhappy with what happened Tuesday night. Basketball fans everywhere should plead that the coaches are never truly satisfied, never happy enough with what was put on the court, always wanting their group to get to that next level.

But for everyone else? Just be happy that Big Ten basketball is back.