Ranked #2 coming into the season, the hopes were as high as ever in East Lansing.
The excitement was especially after beating the then #1 Kentucky Wildcats. The Spartans struggled in their next few games, but continued to win. Beating Columbia by only 9 points at home seemed to be an indicator of potential weakness.
Yet Michigan State rolled on. Ranked #1, they started 7-0 and headed into a big matchup with a hot-then-cold North Carolina Tar Heels. On December 4th East Lansing was rocking for the ACC-B1G Challenge. On this night MSU would suffer its first loss of the season, falling 79-65.
The Spartans seemed to recover and learn from the loss, and went on to enter B1G play with an 11-1 record and a top 5 record. Many had them as the B1G’s best team and the team expected to win the conference.
But the season’s grind had already taken its toll on the team. Injuries to Adreian Payne and Keith Appling were hurting the team, but they kept on winning. In B1G play the Spartans started 7-0. Dawson breaks his hand punching a table, compounding the injury problem. And looming was a huge matchup with arch-rival Michigan in East Lansing.
Without Payne and Dawson, the Spartans lost their first B1G game and only their second game on the season. Not only did they lose to their arch-rival at home, they also handed to keys to the Wolverines for the B1G lead. They would go on to win just every other game before meeting with Michigan again, this time in Ann Arbor.
With Payne back, the Spartans had new life. Appling was still injured, but was playing. Izzo had to feel they could sneak into Crisler and steal a win from the Wolverines. Ultimately, MSU was swept by the Wolverines.
Down the stretch, MSU really struggled. Since January 25th the Spartans went 5-7. Six loses in the B1G was good enough for a second place tie with Wisconsin. Against the other teams that finished in the top 5 in the B1G (Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Ohio State), MSU was 0-5 over that stretch. In fact, on the season, they were only 1-5 against those teams. That is just not a winning combination for the Spartans, who had hoped to win the conference.
The B1G Tournament brings every team a new chance, a new beginning. The Spartans place 3rd and awaited Northwestern for their first match. The Spartans dominated, taking down the Wildcats, 67-51. On Saturday, they faced the team that seeded #2, the Wisconsin Badgers. Michigan State used a dominating first half to pull away from the Badgers, eventually winning 83-75. This set the stage for round 3 against the Wolverines in the Tournament Championship. Michigan State bested the Wolverines on their third attempt, winning the B1G Tournament, 69-55.
Michigan State is the number 4 seed in the East Region. Teams they should have to go through in the Region are: Cincinnati in the second round, the #1 seed Virginia, Iowa State and Villanova. Michigan State seems to be peaking at the right time. The East Region looks winnable, and I think Spartan fans should be expecting a Final Four run this season.