Regarding the Acadians: They shout and curse, stabbing wildly; more brawlers than warriors. They make a wondrous mess of things.

Written by Kyle Magin

The final seconds of Michigan State basketball’s second Big Ten win fittingly ticked away with the ball in the hands of Alvin Ellis III.

The Spartans are 2-0 in the league–with an overtime victory on the road against Minnesota and a home win over Northwestern–largely in thanks to Ellis, which is strange because the senior swingman more or less openly despises organized basketball and has never really been expected to produce at MSU.

Ellis–a lifer on MSU’s bench in an era when most guys who would wear that crown would have transferred away for more minutes long ago–is averaging 18 points in consecutive B1G games largely by playing basketball like a savage.

He’s parlayed his success into a massively unlikely promotion to the team’s main shooting guard. Rather than working within the offense, Ellis thunders toward the hoop with abandon. Where other players may hem and haw and hesitate to avoid an over-the-back penalty, Ellis crashes the glass to contend for rebounds he, at 6’4”, should have no business grabbing.

I saw Ellis play about a week ago in a game against Oakland at the Breslin Center. Leading a two-on-one fast break, Ellis dumped a nonchalant pass behind him to a trailing Nick Ward (more on him later), which bounced off someone’s foot and went out-of-bounds. An elderly Michigan State fan sitting near me took note of MSU coach Tom Izzo chewing Ellis out for the brain fart.

“Tom, you’re not going to tell him anything you haven’t been saying for four years, and he hasn’t listened yet.”

Good. Because that same wild man spirit is the thing that leads Ellis to taking big risks on overplaying the passing lanes and dunking the spoils at the other end, which gets the crowd lit.

The spirit–thankfully only in part–has spread to some of his teammates. Ward, a dump-truck in human form, has taken to breaking out of the set offense when it’s resulting in no appreciable opportunities and getting to the fucking rack just to see what happens. What’s happening is 16.5 points per game in conference play.

The 10-5, 2-0 Spartans are reaping the rewards of basketbrawl at exactly the time they needed it. After a staggering string of injuries and a bumpy preseason schedule, State looks a little like a bubble team for the first time in two decades. What may save it isn’t the cerebral ball they’ve played in the 2010s, the set-piece offenses and near-professional defenses of thoroughbreds like Draymond Green, Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine. They don’t have the horses right now, especially with freshman phenom Miles Bridges on the bench, to play the game at that high a level. No, it looks like salvation will come in the guise of early Izzo  squads–vicious rebounding, the fast break, free-form halfcourt attacks and coach screaming himself hoarse right into the postseason. Ellis and Ward are sentient haymakers, and I can’t wait to see where they land next.

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