If you’re looking for a positive spin on yesterday’s disaster of a game, then I would suggest looking somewhere else. Yesterday’s 53-46 loss to Illinois (17-12, 6-10) was by far Michigan State’s most pathetic performance of the season. I don’t think anyone thought that the Spartans would look flawless just because it had everyone back for the first time since January. However, I can’t speak for everyone but I would think that most fans, analysts, coaches, and players thought that the Spartans would come out oozing with energy and playing angry after a loss to their in-state rivals. That was definitely not the case in the Breslin Center yesterday afternoon. The Spartans looked flat, uninspired, and out of gas. There was no reason to be out of gas after having almost a week off! I thought Branden Dawson was possibly the only Spartan that played inspired in his first game back after missing 9 straight. Dawson played with passion and brought energy back to a team that desperately needs it. Unfortunately he cannot do it alone, and no one else seemed to join the energy party with Dawson. Dawson put up 6 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block on the stat sheet, which is not a bad day for somebody who has missed more than a month of time.
The Spartans have now lost back to back games for the first time all season, and have now lost 6 of their last 11. To make things worse, the Spartans looked to have serious chemistry issues on offense. This did not completely surprise me, nor should it have surprised most people with the 10,000 different line-ups that they have had this season. On the flip side, the Spartans looked better in previous games with more players sitting out due to injury. That is the head scratcher. “My team didn’t look like my team today,” said Tom Izzo. I guess that pretty much sums up the day and the game. The Spartans (22-7, 11-5), have almost all but taken themselves out of the Big Ten race. Especially with a Michigan win over Minnesota 68-58 yesterday in Ann Arbor. That win clinched at least a share of the Big Ten Regular Season Championship. To be honest, as bad I wanted this team to get at least a share of that championship, they don’t deserve it.
After struggling to say the least in the first half, the Spartans found a way to tie it at 28 going into the halftime break. I think most people thought that it was just one of those halves, and the Spartans would turn it up in the second half and run away with the game. I know that’s at least what I thought they would do, especially after playing better in the last 4 minutes of the first half. They came out to start the second half and took the lead 30-28, but would never lead again in the second half. However, the Spartans found themselves down 42-39 when Gary Harris appeared to get a steal and breakaway for a layup plus the foul. The layup was called off because an official had apparently stopped play because of a shot clock violation for Illinois. This was probably the worst call of the day as the Illini did not appear to get a shot off, rather Harris stole the ball as the shot clock was running out. The officials were not the reason for the loss yesterday by any means, but they were not good either. But lets be honest all officials are bad. The Spartans have been great in the turnover department this season, but yesterday they committed 16 turnovers that turned into 25 Illinois points. It came down to Illinois making shots and making plays when they needed to, and the Spartans doing the exact opposite. Michigan State was 4-11 from the free-throw line on the day, which included missing the front end of four straight one-and-one’s down the stretch. Gary Harris lead the Spartans with 19 points, and Tracy Abrams led the victorious Illini with 12.
This team has pain-stakingly reminded me of the 2011 Spartan team lately. A team that had all of the talent in the world but just could not find a way to put it all together. That team was a 10-seed in the NCAA Tournament and was bounced by UCLA in the first round. That team is the only team to not make it to at least the Sweet 16 since 2007. Now, that 2011 team never seemed to have chemistry all year long, and looked destined for a first round exit since about January. This 2013-2014 team looked outstanding in the beginning of the year, played with great chemistry, and looked like a team that could win the National Championship. That is why I believe that this team can still find it’s groove and get that chemistry back, because they already had it one point. You cannot find something that you never had. The Spartans are now looking down the barrel of the 4-6 seed range in the NCAA Tournament. I do believe that they could possibly move up to a 2 or 3 seed if they were to win their last two games (Iowa at home, at Ohio State) and win the Big Ten Tournament or at least get to the finals of the Big Ten Tournament. But that is the best case scenario for the Spartans, the 1 seed is definitely out of the question at this point. As I said before, I believe this year’s tournament will be more about match-ups than it will be about seeding, and that favors the Spartans. If this team does not reach the Final Four, Tom Izzo’s streak of every 4 year player reaching a Final Four will come to an end. Let’s hope that this team can find that chemistry it had when it knocked off then number 1 Kentucky to begin the season. If they do they definitely have the talent to reach the Final Four and win a National Championship. But they better figure it out soon.