Having played their usual brutal schedule but without collecting any prominent scalps to show for it, an injury-wracked Spartan team could use another item or two on its resume - though knocking off Wisconsin on Sunday really helped.
Team: Michigan State Spartans
Record: 18-11 (10-6 B1G)
Remaining Schedule: @Illinois, @Maryland
Probable B1G tournament seed: 4
Probable NCAA tournament seed: 9 or 10
Key players: F Miles Bridges (16.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.0 apg); F Nick Ward (13.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg); G Cassius Winston (7.0 ppg, 5.4 apg)
Diagnosis: It’s been a season-long struggle with inexperience and injuries for MSU, which got worse last week when senior volume scorer Eron Harris went down with a knee injury to match fellow seniors Ben Carter and Gavin Schilling. Still, on the strength of an outstanding freshman class (all of those key players are freshmen), the Spartans have scratched their way to the upper reaches of the conference, mainly on the sturdy backs of post wunderkind Nick Ward and presumed one-and-done Miles Bridges.
Sunday’s victory over Wisconsin is a vital resume item, and together with a sweep of Minnesota, a non-con win over Wichita State, and an admittedly-depreciating win over Northwestern, there should be enough there to excuse the one bad loss to Northeastern. Scoring the road W over Maryland on Saturday would end the questions beyond any reasonable doubt, but as long as MSU doesn’t end the season with 3 losses in a row, they should be set. A deep conference tourney run could conceivably see them land as high as the 8 line.
Other Questions: After last year’s disappointing NCAA flameout, the whole narrative around this season has just been pushing the NCAA tournament streak to 20. But this team has shown the ability to go white-hot from deep at times, and they have a gamechanging talent in Bridges who should flourish in a tournament atmosphere. Is it fair to expect Izzo to reassert his March bona fides and push past the first weekend, even with a flawed roster?