There's no question that the best team won the national championship this
year. Michigan State, a tough and hardened team, accepted the challenge of young
Florida, running past their press and scoring with ease. On the other end,
they put the screws on the Gators, particularly on their starting guards, who
had a very depressing night indeed.
When a team has the kind of heart the Spartans had, it's almost unfair to
single out individuals, but obviously Mateen Cleaves deserves high praise. First
of all, he ran that team like a dream. Secondly, when he was injured, he turned
to the bench (you could see it in the replay), and it looked to us like he said
"it's broke!" The guy was clearly terrified. Florida, down but
not out, was in position to rally, but the Spartans held firm. Mike
Chappell scored five very key points during Mateen's absence, and Charlie Bell
stepped his game up, and the Spartans held on until Cleaves returned.
And what a return. Obviously the guy was hobbled, but he was out there
directing traffic, and putting the ball where it needed to be and provided
grounding for his team. As the game wore on, his limp was more pronounced,
but less important, as the issue was decided.
Morris Peterson was also superb, and Granger did precisely what his team
When it came down to winning time, Michigan State reminded us a lot of Duke
against Michigan in 92: they just took the game away, and there was nothing
Florida could do but watch. It was championship ball at the highest level.
Florida, used to running teams off the floor, was run off in turn by a bigger,
stronger, more mature team.
There were a lot of subplots here. One is the idea that seniors and
upperclassmen are obsolete. Clearly they're not. You're lucky to have
them, but they're not obsolete.
A second theme which hasn't been mentioned is the idea that Cincinnati would
have won had they not lost Martin. Honestly, we think that Michigan State
is the best team, period.
The third is the idea that Florida is a relentless wrecking machine. They did
a number on the East regional, and then UNC, but as we said earlier, they hadn't
faced a deep team in the tournament, except for Illinois, much less a deep team
with serious talent and experience.
The odds against Florida maintaining exactly what they've done are pretty
slender. For one, they've managed to get 10 guys on the same page, and
that's not an easy thing to do. First of all it's not easy getting the commitments.
Secondly it's not easy getting the right commitments. Third the chemistry is
very tricky. And fourth, the players, as they move through the system, are
starting to think about the NBA. Mike Sullivan, who is pretty reliable, is
reporting that Miller is very likely to go pro. And Donnell Harvey has
apparently had contact with agents already. So as you can see,
it's not an easy needle to thread. They've done a tremendous job this season,
and they'll be around, but it's a balancing act, and like all balancing acts,
it's tricky. But they're not going anywhere - well unless the Duke Curse
On the other hand, Michigan State, clearly, is now among the nation's
elite. They have taken control of their state, as Michigan has flailed for
several years now, having one crisis after another, meaning they will have a
shot at every great player that comes out of Michigan. That alone is enough to
keep them at a high level. It's like having Maryland, Georgetown, St. John's, or
Memphis at a high level - you get first crack at a rich seam of talent in those
areas (we might add Seton Hall now too). Add that and topflight coaching
and you are set for a long time to come.