By Adam Biggers
Although he's in a position to cast his pro-Michigan State Spartans attitude to the masses, Mateen Cleaves, a Spartans legend, is far from a homer.
It would be easy, and possibly politically correct, for Cleaves to select the Spartans to win the 2012 NCAA National Championship Game in New Orleans. He helped them win it all in 2000 against Florida. Nine years later, the Spartans fell in the 2009 title game to North Carolina in Indianapolis (For the record, I have an MSU-UNC rematch in 2012).
Sure, the fifth-ranked Spartans—who are the No. 1 seed in the West Region and have appeared in six national semis since 1999—are capable of making it to the Final Four. But Cleaves doesn't believe they have what it takes to take down the likes of Kentucky, a team he feels could cut the nets down in the Crescent City.
Part of Cleaves' reasoning is the fact that Michigan State is without freshman standout Branden Dawson, who tore his ACL in his team's 72-70 loss to Ohio State on the final day of the Big Ten's regular season.
"Bias-wise, I would say yeah, but basketball junkie-wise, I think Michigan State can get to the Final Four, and I think it's going to catch up to them by losing Branden Dawson against Kentucky just with the athletes that they have," Cleaves told 95.7 FM The Game in San Francisco on Wednesday.
"If they had him on the floor, I would have gave Michigan State a chance. And I'm still not ruling them out totally. But Kentucky is just so loaded, and I think it's going to hurt not to have a Branden Dawson match up with Kentucky."
Oftentimes, athletes turned analysts are blinded by their own school or former team's colors. They drink the Kool-Aid we've all grown accustomed to hearing about. Cleaves is probably one of the biggest Spartans fans out there. Some would argue that he'd have to pick Michigan State to win it all. After all, Spartans coach Tom Izzo did name one of his children (middle name) after Cleaves.
I like Cleaves' honesty. He has the utmost respect for Izzo and the Spartans, but he's calling a spade a spade. However, if Michigan State were to win it all in April, Cleaves would likely issue a statement, happily retracting his comment made during his interview with the San Fransisco radio station.