With a 20-5 record and six games remaining, the Michigan State Spartans are closing in on the prize of winning the Big Ten Championship. There was some doubt that the Spartans would contend with Ohio State especially after the rocky start Sparty had this season. No coach would ever dare to have North Carolina and Duke to begin the season, besides Tom Izzo. The fearless leader that Izzo is took the lumps with the two consecutive losses and identified the issues with his team.
The holes that Izzo found were inside presence, consistent perimeter shooting, and rebounding integrity. All of which were aided with potential Big Ten Player of the Year Draymond Green. The same lumps that the Spartans had early in the season also ailed the leader of the team in Green. He lost consistency on his shot and was weak when driving to the basket.
Now with 25 games in the books for Michigan State, the team ranks in the top-ten nationally in rebounds per game. Not only do the Spartans average 40 rebounds a game, they allow the fewest as a defensive unit. While the bigs of Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix haven't been the strongest of rebounds, Green has picked up the slack. He is the top rebounder in the conference by averaging over 10 rebounds per game; Green ranks 13th in the nation in rebounds per game including being 5th in defensive rebounding.
Here are some more team stats:
-1st in assists in the Big Ten
-2nd in blocks in the Big Ten behind Minnesota, 2nd in steals
-Michigan State ranks 4th in offensive production and 3rd in defense
Finally, as a team, Michigan State has been a surprisingly good shooting team. The team shoots 10 percent better than its opponents, with Branden Dawson and Payne leading the way in percentage for players who have shot more than 100 times this season. No player scores more than 15 points a game, while six players score over seven points a game; the only other team with those statistics is Michigan.
The two toughest opponents that Michigan State still has on its schedule are both at home in East Lansing. Tonight, the Spartans battle the Badgers of Wisconsin as they try to sweep Bucky after defeating them in Madison last month in overtime. Sparty is undefeated at home this season with a 15-0 record.
The Remaining Games:
2/16 vs. Wisconsin
The Jack Breslin Student Events Center will be rocking Thursday night when the Badgers come to town. Wisconsin is the hottest team in the Big Ten by winning seven of its past eight games. The Badgers and the Spartans are the two best teams in the Big Ten in defending the three-ball. Expect a close game and probably low scoring as Bo Ryan tries to force a halfcourt tempo throughout to stop the speed of Michigan State’s guards.
2/19 at Purdue
After facing Wisconsin, the Spartans head from ‘East’ to ‘West’ as they travel to West Lafayette to play the Robbie Hummels (the Boilermakers). With no game during the week, Purdue will be well-rested for a game it eagerly wants to win to ensure a NCAA tournament appearance. Purdue’s main struggle this season has been rebounding, which is something that Michigan State is great at.
2/22 at Minnesota
Fans at Williams Arena have seen the Spartans come into town the past two seasons and leave Golden Gopher fans heartbroken. Two season ago, Kalin Lucas led the comeback for Michigan State including the game-winning jumper as time expired. Last season, Minnesota led at half once again, but a Spartans comeback proved to be the difference in an offensive struggle of a game. This year, expect Tubby Smith to stay scrappy and try to weasel a desperate victory.
2/25 vs. Nebraska
Not too much will be said about this game. It’s technically a trap game as Izzo prepares his team for the final two crucial games of the season. But, Nebraska will need a lot to go right (along with Michigan State to go wrong) in order to win this game.
2/28 at Indiana
Since beating Ohio State at the end of 2011, Indiana hasn’t had a staple win. Michigan State is by far the toughest test left for Tom Crean’s team as the Hooisers prepared to get back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in a while. Indiana lost by 15 on the road in East Lansing against Michigan State in December. Being home in Assembly Hall will allow for another close contest.
3/4 vs. Ohio State
It’s pretty fitting that the final game of the Big Ten schedule is Ohio State at Michigan State, which will likely give the victor the Big Ten title. The low-scoring game this past Saturday in Columbus saw the Buckeyes barely shoot above 25 percent. Deshaun Thomas and William Buford combined for four for 24 from the field. It’s highly unlikely that the rematch will be more of the same offensive struggle. But, the game is at East Lansing where the Spartans are undefeated.
Five of the final six games for Michigan State could potentially end up in a loss, but that’s beyond unlikely. The Spartans aren’t like the 2011 Minnesota Golden Gophers where they free-falled down the standing.
Since I am a blogger, I can throw some opinion around. So, I firmly believe that this Big Ten Conference Trophy is Michigan State’s for the taking. Tonight is going to the toughest game of the remaining games. Yes, even over the Ohio State contest to end the season on the first weekend of March.
BOLD Prediction: Michigan State loses Thursday but wins out and wins the Big Ten.