91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Weekday mornings on Michigan Radio, Doug Tribou hosts NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to news radio program in the country.

John U. Bacon: Izzo's Spartans have grit, Yzerman's got vision, Clark transcends the game

Michigan State forward Malik Hall (25) shoots against Northwestern forward Nick Martinelli (2), left, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
Al Goldis
Michigan State forward Malik Hall (25) shoots against Northwestern forward Nick Martinelli (2) Wednesday in East Lansing. The Spartans won 53-49 to break a three-game losing streak. MSU fans are hoping for a 26th straight NCAA tournament appearance.

Many college basketball teams come into March like lions before exiting the month like lambs. But the Michigan State and Michigan men’s basketball teams are not exactly roaring with March Madness just around the corner.

Michigan Public sports commentator John U. Bacon joined Morning Edition host Doug Tribou to talk about all that and more from the world of sports.

Doug Tribou: Michigan State held off Northwestern 53-49 Wednesday. The Wildcats are ahead of MSU in the Big Ten standings, so that’s a good win for the Spartans, but they had lost three straight before that.

Head coach Tom Izzo is at some risk of missing the NCAA tournament after 25 straight trips. How do you like their chances, in their season finale against Indiana and then in the Big Ten tournament, to get the ship straightened out?

John U. Bacon: It's been such a topsy-turvy season. Hard to say, but I think Michigan State is playing gritty basketball. They do not have the talent of previous Tom Izzo teams. The three losses in a row is always a scary thing. They were said to be not on the bubble, which is in danger of not making the tournament. Now they're said to be off the bubble. So okay, they're probably going to make it. I once talked to Coach Izzo about this, whom I love, and he said, 'One of these years, we need to miss the tournament just to remind fans around here that it's not a given.' Well, this was almost that year, but I think they're going to make it.

DT: Since we last spoke, things have only gotten worse for the Michigan men’s team. They’ve lost seven straight. Their last win was on February 7. Their last win before that was on January 15. The Wolverines have one regular season game left and then the Big Ten Tournament. In this era of the transfer portal is it safe to assume fans will see a lot of different faces on the court next season?

"You have to put her down, I think, on a list with athletes like Tiger Woods in golf and Wayne Gretzky in hockey."
John U. Bacon says Caitlin Clark's talent has drawn fans from outside the sport.

JUB: I think one way or the other, it's almost a guarantee. [Laughs] Michigan players transferring out and other players transferring in. The real question, Doug, is: will the transfer portal include head coach Juwan Howard? The inside word is that [Athletic Director] Warde Manuel would like to keep him, but President Ono of the university is less optimistic about that. So we'll see how that tug of war plays out.

DT: John, we spoke about Iowa’s Caitlin Clark a couple of weeks ago. She has since passed "Pistol" Pete Maravich’s scoring total. That means Clark now has scored more points than any other player in the history of NCAA basketball, men’s or women’s. People love to try to compare players who never set foot on a court together and played in completely different eras of the game. What do you think about Clark’s record and her place in basketball and sports history?

JUB: The bigger picture is this: You have to put her down, I think, on a list with athletes like Tiger Woods in golf and Wayne Gretzky in hockey. Athletes who are so spectacular that they transcended their sport and draw the attention of people who don't normally pay attention to their sport. And that's what she's done, especially in the Big Ten, which has been behind, really, the SEC. Teams like, now Texas, Tennessee, [and Big East member] Connecticut, they all draw huge crowds for women's basketball. Now the Big Ten is as well. And that is Caitlin Clark.

DT: Let’s turn to the NHL, the Detroit Red Wings went about a generation without missing the playoffs. That was from 1991 to 2016. But they haven’t been since. Now, they’re in the hunt for an NHL wild card spot with about 20 games to go. What has changed this season and are we seeing the start of another long era of Wings success?

JUB: I dare say it. I think we are Doug. And the reason is Steve Yzerman. The Captain, as he's known — the longest serving serving captain in the history of the NHL [during his playing career with Detroit] — came back as an executive with the team to pick the roster, and the coaches, and so on. And his plan, year by year, has worked amazingly well.

And you've got to pull back on that one, too, Doug. It is very rare for a Hall of Fame player to become a Hall of Fame coach or executive because the skill set is just very different. Yzerman [was a successful executive] with the Canadian Olympic team. Did it with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and now he's doing that with his old team, the Red Wings.

It's a fun team to watch, and not only will they make the playoffs this year, I believe, but will be better and better in the years to come. And Dylan Larkin is a captain very much in the Steve Yzerman mold, and he's from Michigan.

DT: And Red Wings fans are eagerly awaiting Dylan Larkin's return. He's out for a couple of weeks with an injury. And Friday is the NHL trade deadline. So we'll see if the Red Wings make any big moves. John, thanks a lot.

JUB: Doug, thank you.

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.
Related Content