As I was driving up to Rupp Arena Saturday, I couldn't help but think of the last time we played a Thursday-Saturday couplet there: a crushing of Stanford following by a crazy, close loss to a tough, experienced, good rebounding team on Saturday. While everyone has been justifiably focused on 2009, the 2007 similarities were enough to at least take me from 11 out of 10 on the worried scale to 11.1.
On the drive home, listening to the updates about Oregon crushing St. Louis, I resumed my 2009 parallel panic. It is is approaching an absurd level, but you can't ignore how many things that harken back to 2009 keep popping up. I can't even remember if this one has been discussed, but I just realized it this weekend. The last regular season loss for the 2009 and 2013 teams:
It is stuff like that that makes it feel weird to see all the national magazines and sportswriters and Vegas and everyone keeping us as the favorite considering how it feels like we have a seemingly impossible task facing us this week.
But maybe it isn't. Because for all the similarities, this isn't 2009 in a lot of significant and insignificant ways. First, Michigan State was a 2 seed in 2009; they are a 3 seed this year. Second, the Arizona team we were facing was a controversial at-large that many folks didn't feel belonged. These Oregon Ducks won the Pac-12 tournament. Also, we aren't even certain that Michigan State will be there Sunday - there's the slight problem of a Duke Blue Devils team many consider to be the second or third best team in the whole tournament. Heck, the court isn't even in the same place - last time it was in the center of the field, making even "good" seats about a mile from the court and, combined with the large MSU fans, limiting our home court advantage. This season it is in the end zone with temporary seating (exactly like the 2005 Final Four when the depth perception in the Dome hurt our 3-point heavy offense - everybody f'in panic!!!!)
Another critical difference: the 2009 team did not exactly set the world on fire in its first two games. The Morehead score ended up +20 but it was a 2 point game at half and seemed closer than it should have been the entire 2nd half. The Sienna game was WAY closer than it should have been, especially considering the had played 2OT game 2 days earlier. It's impossible to start comparing the 2009 team to this one without a bias against that team to come out - both because of the way it ended and because of the relative likeability of the team as a whole, which, again, is based in part on how the season ended and in part on how likeable the teams have been on this side of the bridge. But, just looking objectively, the 2009 team did not play as well in their first two games as this team. They more than made up for it in the Sweet 16, as we can never forget, and it remains to be seen what this team does Friday night.
everyone is I am so scarred by 2009 that any excitement this week will be tempered by knowing that Michigan State may be there waiting for us. And if not, it's because Duke is. Which is great, because Revenge Tour and all that. But which may not be as great, because Duke is really good and has already beat us and has already seen in person what we do so they have some idea, and finally they have good guards and Michigan State's guards aren't as good.
But the point is it isn't 2007, 2009, 2012 (this team is playing better than even the Final 4 team last year - which beat Michigan State and seemingly exorcised the demons that currently haunt
us me) or even 2005. This is 2013, here, now, living, breathing, and whatever is going to happen is not decided by anything that has happened before it. The week leading up to the Sweet 16 is one of the best weeks of the entire sports calendar, and dreading a sequel of 4 years ago with completely different cast is about as pointless as deciding in March whether to dress for rain or sun at Derby.
And besides, Ohio State has the championship locked up. What, you didn't hear? The last three single-digit seeds to knock Iowa State out of the tournament went on to win the national championship.
Can't argue with history like that.