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What We Learned: Michigan State Spartans 83, Notre Dame 61

Takeaways from Michigan State’s win in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

After dominating the No. 9 North Carolina Tar Heels, the Michigan State Spartans picked up right where they left off against No. 5 Notre Dame.

The Spartans cruised to an 81-63 win and took the Fighting Irish out of the game early. Michigan State began the game on a 24-8 run and led by 20 after the opening 20 minutes of play.

The Spartans have now collected five consecutive wins after losing to Duke around two weeks ago. They’ve done it in impressive fashion as well, winning each game by at least 18 points.

Let’s see what we learned from MSU’s second win over a top-five team in the last five days.

Joshua Langford and Cassius Winston Complete This Elite Team

Despite Miles Bridges not being at full health for a good portion of the early season, Michigan State has stayed afloat. The contributions from Langford and Winston so far are a major reason why MSU hasn’t struggled without Bridges at his best.

Langford and Winston are the Spartans’ third and fourth leading scorers, with averages of 13.7 and 12.2 points per game, respectively. Both have been extremely efficient as well. Winston has converted 52 percent of his shots through six games, while Langford is slightly behind him at 49.2 percent.

Against Notre Dame, the two sophomores led MSU in scoring, posting 17 points each. Winston also dished out seven assists and collected five rebounds.

The success of both guards has been crucial for the Spartans in non-conference play. And it’s worth noting that both have vastly improved from last season. Each averaged under seven points per game during the 2016-17 season.

Without the drastic improvements from Langford and Winston, it’s hard to imagine that MSU would be sitting at 6-1 with two high quality wins right now.

The Spartans are Playing Close to Their Best Basketball Right Now

It would be an exaggeration to say that Michigan State got off to a slow start this season. However, through the first four or so games this season, the Spartans didn’t look like the team we knew they were capable of being.

Obviously, a loss against Duke isn’t a “bad” loss, but many Spartans fans would agree that MSU could beat the Blue Devils if given another chance.

Following the Duke loss, Michigan State allowed a winless Stony Brook squad to hang around a little longer than desired. And then, even though they were without Bridges, MSU looked far from sharp for the majority of the DePaul game.

Yes, MSU did win the game by 22, but that was because Sparty pulled away late. The Spartans were plagued by poor shooting for the majority of the game and actually trailed the Blue Demons early in the second half.

But, not to worry, since beating DePaul, the true Spartans have arrived. MSU has coasted in their last three games, beating UConn, North Carolina, and Notre Dame by an average of 18.7 points per game.

MSU is the real deal. And, even though they are close, they aren’t even playing their best basketball yet.

Michigan State is Capable of Winning Out

Predicting 24-straight wins is tough to put confidence in, even for the best teams. With all of the unpredictability involved in college basketball, the best teams run into an upset loss here or there.

What these last two wins for MSU indicate, though, is that they really can beat anyone in the country.

The “difficult” portion of Sparty’s non-conference schedule has concluded. The remaining six games on MSU’s non-conference slate are all against mid-major schools.

There is no question that the Spartans could run the table during Big Ten play as well. And, even though this will most likely change, it’s worth noting that the only time MSU faces a ranked opponent within its conference schedule is against Minnesota in late February.

Overall

The Spartans are clearly hitting their stride right now.

Even if the Big Ten ends up having an off year and doesn’t provide MSU with many quality wins, beating UNC and Notre Dame in November should be enough to land the Spartans a top seed in March Madness. Of course, only if they avoid major upsets and win the games they should.

This MSU team will only continue to get better. Bridges isn’t even playing close to his best basketball, and a locked-in Bridges alongside average contributions from Langford, Winston, and Nick Ward will make the Spartans practically unbeatable.