March Madness: Michigan State's guide to the B1G Tournament
This past Sunday, Tom Izzo became the all-time winningest coach in Big Ten history following Michigan State’s 77-67 win over Maryland. Win No. 663 put the Hall of Famer smack-dab at the top of the list, passing legends such as Bobby Knight of Indiana and Gene Keady of Purdue.
However, that 10-point win over the Terps was only the Spartans’ third victory in their past 10 games — so, needless to say, MSU isn’t exactly strutting into the Big Ten Tournament with a ton of confidence.
A 3-7 finish to the regular season will either motivate Michigan State to compete harder during the conference postseason, or it’ll serve as a reminder that the Spartans just weren’t that good this past year.
The No. 7-seeded Spartans will get another shot at the No. 10 Terps on Thursday in Indianapolis. If they succeed, they’ll have the good fortune of facing No. 2 Wisconsin, with which they split the season series 1-1. The Badgers lost the first meeting 86-74 in East Lansing but rebounded with a 70-62 victory in the friendly confines of the Kohl Center in Madison in early February.
The postseason probably won’t last too long for Michigan State, so there isn’t a need to project too much in this piece.
What’s working (as best it can, considering the circumstances)
Gabe Brown, MSU’s leading scorer, has been on a bit of uptick of late, scoring at least 10 points during the final four games of the regular season. Averaging 11.5 points per game, he’s hardly a big-time bucket-filler. In fact, his average is among the lowest of any MSU leading scorer during the 27-year Izzo era.
And on top of that, he’s the only player averaging double-figures for MSU, which is real danger of missing the real March Madness. The B1G Tournament will serve as proving grounds for Brown, who is a much better player than statistics suggest. He’s had hardly any support this season and has often been criticized for being inconsistent.
However, if he continues to play the way he’s played during the past couple of weeks, the Spartans might just go toe-to-toe with Maryland. Brown will be the player to lead the Spartans, and that’s not even up for debate — which is sad for MSU, considering that it’s often entered the postseason with at least 2 or 3 potential game-changers, if not more.
What’s not working
Michigan State averaged roughly 72 points per game during the regular season, while also giving up about 68 points per game — so, averaging a 4-point win each night doesn’t exactly say “Hey, the Spartans are for real and can put teams away.” During the final 10 games of the regular season, MSU was hardly competitive, losing by double-digits 4 times. And we’re not just talking 10 or 12 points here … we’re talking getting taken out back and getting beaten like a rented mule (sorry, PETA folks, but the analogy fits).
Rutgers — yes, Rutgers — dismantled MSU, 84-63, back in early February. Michigan won 87-70 just about a week ago. When MSU loses, that loss is bad. And the Spartans (20-11, 11-9 B1G) have had more bad losses this season than they’ve ever had under Izzo.
MSU just doesn’t have the “it” factor. There is no star point guard. AJ Hoggard and Tyson Walker just haven’t answered the call for the Spartans, who’ve had dynamic floor generals for most of the Izzo era. There are no big-time wings who can attack the rack and change games. There is talent, don’t think that there isn’t, but that talent isn’t cohesive enough to make spectators believe in the magic of Izzo in March — not this team.
Izzo March Magic?
There is no questioning Izzo’s track record in March. Eight Final Four appearances speak volumes, but a team can only ride on the coattails of past success for so long before realizing that it’s not comparable to its predecessors. If MSU is going to do anything in the B1G tourney, it’ll need a healthy dose of Izzo’s March Magic, if that still exists.