The run towards March Madness is inching closer and that is generally the time Michigan State University Men’s basketball takes their game up a notch. With only six games remaining in the Big Ten Conference, the Spartans have put themselves in prime position.
In one on the biggest Big Ten matchups this year at Ohio State’s Value City Arena, the Spartans upset the No. 3 ranked Buckeyes 58-48 and appear ready for a serious run at their third Big Ten title in four years.
The No. 11 Spartans (20-5, 9-3 Big Ten) pulled into a tie with the Buckeyes (21-4, 9-3) for first place in the conference, but MSU’s win also helped helped Wisconsin and U-M stay in the race, too. The Badgers (8-4) had the weekend off to prepare for MSU and a chance to avenge the Spartans’ Jan. 3 win. U-M beat Illinois at home Sunday to improve to 9-4 and has the week off until Ohio State visits Saturday.
Although MSU’s victory over Ohio State was huge, as evident by the fact the Spartans halted the Buckeyes noteworthy 39-game home winning streak, the men from East Lansing know they cannot get too giddy about their conquest. Starting with the Spartans home game this Thursday at Breslin Center against Wisconsin, the fact of the matter is the standings could look very different in a week.
Always playing the coach, Tom Izzo claimed before the game he was lost in space concerning how this game and the rest of the season would evolve.
“I said to my staff this morning, secretively, ‘We’ve got to be prepared here, because we could lose four or five in a row here real easy,’ ” Izzo told reporters following his victory. “One thing age does to you is it makes you a realist, instead of totally off the deep end the other way.”
No matter his worry about which MSU squad would turn up, a day before the game he went with his gut feeling in changing his practice routine, instead listening to his players.
“This stat isn’t on here, (but) where the game was won was in (Friday’s) practice — because I did something I never do. I almost walked through, and that was odd for me. I knew we were just dragging because we had gone, like, 11 straight days. I listened to my players. Draymond Green took care of (talking to his teammates) and it was just a focused walkthrough. Those kinds of things, they don’t come up on the stat sheet. Nobody understands. But that’s what leadership and togetherness is all about.”
Whatever is was Izzo needs to bottle it and use it as the MSU tries to take the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament fields by storm. If they play like they did against Ohio State, MSU can indeed step up. Their defense and rebounding has been superior and seems to be improving as the season heads towards its climax.
“I think our defense was great,” Green told reporters. “Of course, they did miss some shots, but our guys defended well. I don’t think Will Buford got an open look, everything was contested, even the two that he hit.”
The victory over the Buckeyes should help the Spartans when NCAA Tournament pairings are announced March 11. A No. 1 seed is not out of the question for 20-5 MSU, and a first-weekend spot at Columbus’ Nationwide Arena is a better bet (Ohio State can’t play there because it is the host school).
But all that is getting ahead of the game, there is still much basketball to be played and all know that the conference is one of the most competitive in the country, so anything can happen on any give night.
Adreian Payne, a sophomore center had his best game of his MSU career scoring a team-high high 15 points. With Payne and Derrick Nix creating MSU two-headed monster at the center position, they can compete with any team in the country when the two of them play to their potential.
Collectively they held All-American forward Jared Sullinger to 17 points and 16 rebounds but he was just 5 of 15 from the field, with 10 turnovers.
The Spartans and Buckeyes meet again on March 4 in East Lansing I the last regular season game.