The 2016-17 season has been a fluctuating one for the Michigan State Spartans and that’s the way it ended during their second round matchup against the No. 1 seeded Kansas Jayhawks on Sunday afternoon
The final score of 90-70 doesn’t necessarily show how close it was for a majority of the game. Most of this matchup was what you would expect when two coaches as legendary and beloved as Tom Izzo and Bill Self face each other.
The game started out as a chess match and battle. Both teams exchanged the lead for most of the first half. A late rally by Kansas helped take a 40-35 lead into halftime. The second half started out very similar to the first half, until the Jayhawks broke through and pulled away to win by the final 20-point margin.
But what did we learn about the Spartans from this game?
What We Learned:
1. Spartans couldn’t overcome their kryptonite.
This year’s Spartan team was filled with youth and inexperience. During the regular season, this team went 2-6 against ranked opponents and, of those six losses, all of them were against teams who are a four-seed or higher in the NCAA Tournament.
This game was a snapshot of the 2016-17 Spartans - which is a team that couldn’t overcome said aforementioned notion. The game was initially close, but when the talent and experience of Kansas started to show itself, there was nothing the Spartans could do despite playing the Jayhawks as tough as they could.
For anyone keeping track of the Spartans this season, the game today almost seemed like an illustration of the entire season.
2. Bridges cemented his stardom
The freshman phenom Miles Bridges proved he’s a star after going against the best of the best. Bridges matched up all game long with Kansas talented freshman and projected top-five 2017 NBA Draft pick Josh Jackson. And Bridges answered the challenge, besting his counterpart in stretches throughout the game.
Bridges scored 22 points, added eight rebounds and got to the free-throw line nine times. The talented forward did not just have the numbers, but he got his points in an efficient way, shooting 7-15 from the field (47 percent), with most of them going up against Jackson.
That being said, Jackson also enjoyed a great game as well, scoring 23 points while shooting 56 percent. Bridges made him work for those buckets when defending him, but the Kansas star still had a strong performance. We can only speculate if Bridges will be a one-and-done college player, but his stock definitely had to rise after showing up to perform against a team who came into the game focusing on limiting his talent.
3. Spartans will be back
The Spartans ended the season with a 20-15 overall record and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. For this young team, they were probably a year ahead of schedule in terms of the expectations of even winning one game in the NCAA tournament. To play Kansas as close as the team did is a good sign for fans in East Lansing because this team is not going anywhere anytime soon (especially if Izzo can convince Bridges to stay on campus for another year).
Adding another expected top recruiting class and having underclassmen like Nick Ward, Joshua Langford and Cassius Winston set to return next season, this teams future is bright. If Bridges does return? The skies the limit for the Spartans next season.
The way the season ended is unsatisfying, but with everything that’s set in place they’ll have an opportunity to return to this spot next year.