Nearly a month ago, the Michigan State mens basketball team walked off the floor at Mackey Arena. They just lost at the hands of Purdue for the second time this season, and their record was 10-9. Their win total for being in the month of February was nothing short of being unorthodox. A few days prior, ESPN March Madness expert Joe Lunardi, ruled the Spartans out of the tournament because of the difficulty of their remaining schedule.
Head coach Tom Izzo was even quietly accepting defeat by telling his players the last few games of the season would be a ‘tryout.’ But that didn’t seem like an Izzo thing to do. Every college basketball fan knows his team turns it on when the calendar flips to the third month of the year. This year was no exception. After that loss at Purdue, Michigan State closed regular season play with 5 huge wins in just 15 days. Now they find themselves in the big dance. How did they get here, and is their more Izzo magic left to be seen?
Illinois, Ohio State, and Michigan were all on Michigan State basketballs schedule to end the season. They all were ranked top-5 in the nation, they all were top-5 in the Big 10 conference, and they all lost at the hands of the green and white. In just a matter of 12 days, their resume made a complete turnaround. Leading the entire country in wins against top-5 opponents is something no other team can boast, and is what put Sparty into the tournament.
The Spartans still finished conference play with a record of 9-11, however. 2021 will go down as the first season Tom Izzo finishes under .500 against Big Ten foes. A 15-11 overall record with 5 Quad 1 wins is nothing anyone saw coming in early February, but late season runs are what this team specializes in. In 2018-19, they ended their season winning 7 of their last 8 games, before heading to the Final Four. A year later they finished the year winning 6 of the last 7, before the pandemic hit. Finally, 5 wins in the last 7 games this campaign is something MSU fans should be proud of.
Michigan State was of course led by their star, Aaron Henry, down the stretch. The junior averaged 21 points per game in the Spartans final five victories. Others finally stepped up as well. Joshua Langford scored 13 points and hauled in a career high 16 rebounds in the win against Illinois. Rocket Watts steadied the ship in the upset against Michigan with 21 points. The team came together when they needed to most. They survived the madness that is late February and early March, and as a result, get to be a part of March Madness.
Tom Izzo proved why he is one of the marquee coaches in college basketball. These last couple weeks he showed why his team is labeled as a ‘blue blood’ even though they wear the color green. On paper, this years Michigan State basketball team is not one of the best rosters they have had in recent memory. On the court however, this squad has arguably worked the hardest out of any MSU team to make the postseason. They stood toe to toe with the giants of the best conference in the country and won.
They may have lost at the hands of Maryland in the Big Ten tournament last week, but the Spartans heads remain up knowing they earned their right to play in the big dance. Whether Michigan State suffers a loss in the first round, or wins it all, it won’t take away what they accomplished this season. Duke and Kentucky won’t be dancing this year, but MSU will. For a 23rd straight year, their name was called on selection Sunday. The best part of it all; Tom Izzo may have a couple more tricks up his sleeve.
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