Well, it happened on Sunday night.
Michigan State came out flat, played poorly, and lost at home to Northeastern.
It’s not something that will be soon forgotten.
But now that the initial reactions have died down, what should fans make of the loss? Is the season over? And most importantly, is there still hope for this year’s Michigan State team to make the NCAA Tournament?
Let’s tackle some of those topics now.
1. This Is A Bad Loss.
Over the coming days, there are going to be a lot of attempts to spin this loss or put it into some type of context. Let me just put this on the table right now. This was a bad loss for Michigan State and is going to be all season.
Admittedly, there’s no debating that the absence of Miles Bridges (out with injury) was a key factor in this loss, but remember, this isn’t an elite Northeastern team. The Huskies were 5-5 entering this matchup, ranked No. 148 on KenPom, and were playing on the road in the Breslin Center. Even if Michigan State wasn’t at full strength, this is a game the Spartans must win.
It’s hard to contextualize what the RPI hit of this game will be in March with so many games remaining, but expect it to be pretty bad. Even if Northeastern finishes in the top 150, this is going to be a major blemish on Michigan State’s resume.
2. Michigan State Should Be In Damage Control Mode Now.
Although many Spartan fans are hoping that Sunday evening was the lowest point for this year’s Michigan State team, that hope might not fit reality. That’s because this collapse has the chance to be even worse if Michigan State can’t get back on track.
Not only do the Spartans match up with in-state Oakland (ranked higher on KenPom than Northeastern) later this week, but Michigan State also has key matchups with Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, and Rutgers in the next few weeks. Even if all those matchups are winnable, none are guarantees.
To put into perspective how important this stretch is for Michigan State, just take a look at KenPom’s current projections. Michigan State is currently projected to finish the season at 16-15 overall and is favored in just 10 remaining games.
Of those 10 games, five will come in Michigan State’s next six games.
In other words, Michigan State must take care of business in its next few games or risk the season going completely off the rails. If Michigan State starts blowing these winnable games, it’s not realistic to think the team can recover from it down the line.
3. Capitalizing On Big Game Opportunities Will Be Crucial.
I never like to buy into NCAA Tournament seeding narratives (usually because they’re wrong), but one I have always respected is the concept that one marquee win can cancel out a bad loss. It just seems reasonable to me to think that a team that gets upset can make up for it by upsetting someone better than itself.
Well, if this logic is to be believed, Michigan State needs to make up for its loss to Northeastern by upsetting someone in Big Ten play. As mentioned earlier, we don’t know how bad this Northeastern upset will be without more data, but it seems likely that Michigan State is going to have to beat at least one top 25 team to recover.
Considering the current state of the Big Ten, the only opportunities to score a top 25 win will come against Indiana, Purdue, and Wisconsin. That can change before March (it usually does), but that’s at least how things look now.
Unfortunately, Michigan State only faces these three a total of four times this season with just two of those games coming at home. That means barring a shocking road upset win, Michigan State will only get two opportunities to make up for its Northeastern loss. Those will come at home against Purdue in late January and at home against Wisconsin in late February.
Whether Michigan State can actually pull off an upset of this magnitude remains unknown, but winning at least one of those two seems necessary for the team’s postseason hopes. Otherwise, Michigan State will have to hope for a nearly flawless performance against teams outside the top 25, which seems unlikely.