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Weekday mornings on Michigan Radio, Doug Tribou hosts NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to news radio program in the country.

Bacon on basketball: Michigan men flailing. Michigan State grinding. Caitlin Clark soaring.

Michigan State guard Tyson Walker (2) reacts after a three-point basket during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Iowa, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Carlos Osorio
Michigan State guard Tyson Walker (2) celebrated after a three-pointer against Iowa on Tuesday in East Lansing, but MSU went on to lose the game 78-71. It's been an up-and-down season for the Spartans, who are 9-7 in conference play in the Big Ten.

As the end of February draws near, college basketball teams turn their eyes toward March. Some of those eyes glimmer with hope. Others shed a tear for what might have been.

Michigan Public sports commentator John U. Bacon joined Morning Edition host Doug Tribou to talk about men's and women's college basketball.

Doug Tribou: It’s been an up-and-down year for Michigan State men’s basketball. The Spartans are just 9-7 in conference play in the Big Ten. Coach Tom Izzo seemed to be getting his team into a rhythm recently. MSU had won three in row, including a win over highly ranked Illinois and another win over Michigan.

But then the Spartans lost a winnable game Tuesday to Iowa. What does MSU need to do to make a strong push at the end of the season?

"They cannot win on talent alone — don't have enough talent for that."
John U. Bacon on the 2023-24 Michigan State men's basketball team

John U. Bacon: This team is a good team, but it's not a great team by Izzo standards. They cannot win on talent alone — don't have enough talent for that. They do have, usually, a lot of intensity and that was missing versus Iowa. So, they've got to simply gear it up, win the games you're supposed to win, and they'll still be a tournament team. That will be 26 straight years [in the NCAA tournament], Doug. Second longest streak in the nation behind Kansas. So not a great year maybe for Michigan State, but do not complain to Michigan fans.

DT: [Laughs] The Michigan men's team is struggling this season. Dead last in the Big Ten right now. The team is on pace for its worst finish in more than a decade. Michigan also missed the NCAA tournament last year. Does another subpar season put coach Juwan Howard’s future at Michigan at risk?

JUB: Well, two things. One, when you say that they're struggling and they're subpar, you're being very kind. This team's awful. They don't beat anybody they're supposed to beat, and they're dead last in the Big Ten. And they look horrible out there. They had 22 turnovers versus Michigan State. That is bad basketball.

Now the flip side. Will that cost Juwan Howard his job? Probably with another athletic director it would. But Warde Manuel hired him. He likes him. And he said he's given no thought to next year. And my strong hunch — just a hunch here — is that Warde Manuel brings him back for another year next year. And then it's probably a do-or-die season then.

"She has helped transform this game into a much bigger spectacle than it was 5 or 10 years ago."
John U. Bacon on Iowa star Caitlin Clark's legacy in women's basketball

DT: In women’s college basketball, both MSU and U of M are unranked nationally and in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten. But the conference is getting extra attention as Iowa’s Caitlin Clark keeps making history. Michigan will be a small footnote in Clark’s career. She broke the NCAA women’s career scoring record against the Wolverines last week. What makes her such a special player?

JUB: She's got uncommon intensity, just incredible to watch. She's a great three-point shooter, and that's how she [broke] the record against Michigan.

But the most fun part for me is watching her do the no-look passes à la Magic Johnson. And for you non-basketball fans, a no-look pass is when she looks to the right and then passes the ball to the left, to a player who does not know the ball's coming, and all of a sudden her teammate is wide open for an easy bucket. That is very clever basketball.

She's scored over 3000 points. Doug, if you and I added up every bucket we've ever made and every gym anywhere in the world or driveways, we would not have 3000 points.

DT: There are other records in sight for Caitlin Clark, including the all-time NCAA scoring record, which is currently held by Pete Maravich. And really, Clark's story is bigger than this historical moment. She is part of what you could argue is one of the biggest stories in sports of the last 10 to 15 years, and that's the rise of women's basketball, both at the college level and in the WNBA.

JUB: That's not a stretch, Doug. And the fact that she's got a chance to beat "Pistol" Pete Maravich's record — that thing is 50 years old. No one thought anybody would ever touch that, men or women. And her teams are setting TV ratings records, as well. She has helped transform this game into a much bigger spectacle than it was 5 or 10 years ago.

Editor's note: Quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.

The University of Michigan holds Michigan Public's broadcast license.

Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
John U. Bacon has worked nearly three decades as a writer, a public speaker, and a college instructor, winning awards for all three.
Caoilinn Goss is the producer for Morning Edition. She started at Michigan Public during the summer of 2023.
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