One of the tremendous things about college basketball is how aggressive the sport and its coaches are at fighting cancer. There are many organizations, the most prominent being Coaches vs. Cancer, that take on this battle every day of the year and have raised tens of millions of dollars over the years.
In late January every season, college hoops coaches don sneakers instead of loafers in an effort to bring some quirky humanity to the sidelines while raising awareness for cancer research. If you've watched college basketball this week, you've seen every coaching staff pace around in a pair of kicks, usually white ones.
If you look even closer, you'll also notice many coaches have gold shoelaces too. That's something new. Those are Lacey's Laces, a charity that began in recent years after a girl with a powerful connection to Michigan State basketball was taken too soon, due to cancer. Lacey Holsworth was a big MSU fan who died in 2014. Before she passed, her special friendship with former MSU star Adreian Payne became a national sports story line. In the years since her death, her existence and relationship to Michigan State's program has only strengthened and this will undoubtedly be an emotional afternoon for Tom Izzo and his team.
When Michigan State hosts Michigan on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on CBS, both coaching staffs will be wearing sneakers with Lacey's Laces. It's a culmination of what many other programs have done this week.
One last word here about Lacey's Laces before we get to the game preview. The impact has been uplifting, but there can always be more money raised. It's an optimistic thought: simply by purchasing some shoelaces, you can help the effort to end childhood cancer and keep alive the spirit of a girl who changed Michigan State's program in the process. I think you'll see more videos like this one in the years to come. Coaches challenging other coaches in a good-natured way. It spreads the word, helps the cause and puts college basketball in the best light possible.
Michigan-Michigan State game preview
1. The dazzling Miles Bridges is reason alone to watch this game
Michigan State's freshman force is coming off a program-record 33-point performance against Purdue on Tuesday. Bridges is in the mix to be a lottery pick, and he's impossible to take your eyes off when you watch. Michigan State's had its issues this year, and I wrote back in November that the Spartans could not ask Bridges to do everything if they were going to become a top-25 team.
But that doesn't change just how strong of a player he is. He's been tasked with a lot, and he's come through. Bridges is great because he's a top-10 athlete in college hoops, plus he can shoot from deep, can defend four positions and is the ideal one-and-done type of player for Izzo. Michigan State hasn't had many players only stop in East Lansing for one season, but Bridges' mindset, competitive streak and willingness to be coached has made him a perfect fit for Sparty this season.
2. This game will probably be in the 60s
College hoops is having a great all-around year, helped in part because more teams are willing to push the pace and score into the high 70s, 80s, even 90s. But these two are different. Michigan's among the slowest teams in the country, yet it's very efficient. The Wolverines are good with the ball, they just take their time in getting the right shot. Did you see what UM did to Indiana on Thursday night? Surgical.
In terms of pace, Michigan State's not much different. Izzo's gone with four-guard lineups here and there this year, but the truth is MSU doesn't try to push the pace. The Spartans have won three in a row against UM. Look for Wolverines coach John Beilein to get his two big men, D.J. Wilson and Moritz Wagner, involved early. Both can play down low, and they can step out and hit 3s with regularity. MSU isn't a big team, and it's going to be a fascinating matchup with UM throwing a lot of different offensive looks against such a young Spartans team.
3. Both teams on the bubble?
The last time Michigan State and Michigan missed the NCAAs in the same season was 1997. It could happen this year, though Michigan is setting itself up decently ... for now. Still, the schedule ahead is not a simple task. The Spartans are 12-9 overall; Michigan is 14-7 heading into is home game against Indiana on Thursday night. The Wolverines are in a better spot at the moment, but whatever team wins this game would be higher in the bubble pecking order, essentially.
And yeah, this game will essentially kick off bubble season in earnest, I think. We've gotten to the end of January and thankfully been spared bubble talk for the most part -- it's fun, but it's vapid when you talk about it too early into conference play -- but February means it's time to really start lining up resumes, looking at brackets and seeing which teams on the fence can make the most of their dwindling chances. Now's the time when we'll really track the teams residing on the soapy sheen of the bubble.