One of the Big Ten's best rivalry series squared off on Saturday with quite a bit on the line. Michigan State was looking to stay alive in the Big Ten title hunt and Michigan was looking to solidify its spot in the NCAA Tournament. The Spartans had won the last three matchups in the series, but Michigan had won six of the last 11 meetings.
However, instead of a tight rivalry battle, fans were treated to a complete blowout. The Spartans came out firing from the opening tip and never looked back. Michigan State had a dominating lead at the half thanks to some excellent shooting from Bryn Forbes and kept the pedal to the metal in the second half. At the final buzzer, the Spartans pulled off the 89-73 road win.
With that, let's see what we learned from the game.
What We Learned
1. Don't Count Michigan State Out Just Yet.
Maybe this is jumping the shark too early, but it's time to start putting the Spartans back into the potential Big Ten title contender category. There's no doubt that Michigan State's four conference losses leave it with some ground to make up, but the team is playing well and has a pretty manageable upcoming schedule.
In fact, over Michigan State's final seven conference games, the Spartans face just one top Big Ten team (Purdue) on the road and get four of those seven games at home. Obviously, Michigan State needs some help to make a real run considering where teams like Indiana and Iowa sit, but if the Spartans can find a way to go on the road and beat Purdue, don't count out a potential run from Michigan State.
Additionally, one other interesting thing to note is that 88 percent of the time under head coach Tom Izzo, Michigan State makes it to the Final Four when the Spartans win in Ann Arbor.
2. Bryn Forbes Made His Case For The Big Ten's Best Shooter.
There's been a lot of debate so far this year about whether Bryn Forbes or Duncan Robinson was the Big Ten's best shooter. Obviously, that discussion will continue to develop, but on Saturday, there wasn't any doubt. Forbes went off from outside the arc and had one of the best shooting days of anyone in the conference all season.
All told, Forbes had 29 points thanks to shooting an unbelievable 8-for-10 from three point range. It's the most that he's scored since the 32 points he had against Oakland and the most three point field goals he's had as a Spartan. Realistically, Michigan State probably wins whether Forbes plays well or not, but he was easily the most significant difference in this game and thoroughly outplayed Robinson.
3. Michigan Needs To Improve Its Defense and Badly.
There's no debating that Michigan's offense wasn't great on Saturday. After all, it featured inconsistent shooting from long-range, underwhelming play inside, and primarily relied on just Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton to get things done. However, it was the defense that was really alarming.
All afternoon, Michigan was missing switches, failing to fight through screens, and leaving shooters wide open from the perimeter. Add in that Matt Costello and Deyonta Davis started heating up in the paint during the second half and there wasn't a ton to like about Michigan's defensive performance.
If the Wolverines truly are going to make the NCAA Tournament and play any significant role in the Big Ten, the team needs to improve its defense and quickly.
4. NCAA Tournament No Guarantee For Michigan At This Point.
For weeks, I've openly discussed the idea that the Wolverines were a pretty safe bet to make this year's NCAA Tournament. That was largely based upon the fact that Michigan had a manageable schedule and had avoided any "bad" losses (from an RPI perspective) this season.
Though Michigan still hasn't lost to any bad teams this season, its NCAA Tournament hopes took a pounding this week thanks to losses to Indiana and Michigan State at home. These were Michigan's best chances at securing quality wins for the remainder of the season and the Wolverines came up (very) short in both games.
With the two losses, the Wolverines are now faced with a final seven games that includes Iowa, Maryland, Purdue, and a total of four games on the road. According to KenPom, Michigan is favored in just two remaining games and will likely be sitting somewhere right on the 20 win range, which is generally right on the bubble.
Needless to say, Wolverine fans, get ready to sweat out February and March.
It was a huge performance for Michigan State and cements the Spartans as one of the top teams in the Big Ten. There will be plenty of questions about the Wolverines in the coming weeks and this was a game that was symbolic of the direction that both teams have been moving the last few weeks.