Michigan State basketball proves itself as 2019 national title contender

ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN - FEBRUARY 24: Matt McQuaid #20 of the Michigan State Spartans and his teammates prepare to play the Michigan Wolverines at Crisler Arena on February 24, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN - FEBRUARY 24: Matt McQuaid #20 of the Michigan State Spartans and his teammates prepare to play the Michigan Wolverines at Crisler Arena on February 24, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

Michigan State basketball marched into Ann Arbor and picked up a big win over Michigan, proving itself as a serious national title contender.

Michigan State traveled to the Michigan on Sunday and squared off to see who could take ahold of the Big Ten race outright.

It was a back-and-forth battle in which Michigan State came out strong and took a lead of seven and then Michigan stormed back and brought the game within two at halftime. After the break, the Wolverines came out on a rampage while Michigan State started slow.

Michigan took the lead and led by as many as six points. Although they were leading, they could not get past the Michigan State defense and started to settle for long jumpers that were not falling. To answer the misses, MSU took the ball to the rack stopped forcing shots in order to regain the lead and the momentum. The Spartans took the lead and never looked back in order to hold on for a 77-70 victory in Ann Arbor

Throughout this game there were some good, some bad and some more good as Michigan State took down the Wolverines. Here are some thoughts from this game as the Spartans take the bragging rights back to East Lansing.

3. Turnovers were under control

Turnovers have been the weak link for this Spartan team all season long. The Spartans have 359 turnovers on the year which averages out to be 13.3 turnovers per game. That’s way too high for a team looking to go deep into the tournament this season.

Tom Izzo knew this was going to be key and preached this point to his players. The Spartans took that to heart and had a season-low six turnovers on the game. One turnover came as Cassius Winston drove the lane and tried to make a tricky pass to Xavier Tillman but the pass ended up in the Wolverines hands. This type of pass has been happening all season long but they were careful with the rock and did not make many mistakes.

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Not only did Michigan State do a great job at protecting the ball, they were able to create turnovers on the other end. They made the best team at protecting the ball cough it up nine times. For example, Isaiah Livers was taking the ball down the court and appeared to have an easy bucket but Kyle Ahrens hustled back on defense and was able to poke the ball away from him ending in a turnover for the Wolverines.

The Spartans need to grow on the game and learn how to not turn the ball over so many times. They need to take this and repeat this in their final three games. Turnovers will be a thing to watch for to see if they grow from this game.

2. Spartans may live and die by Cassius Winston

Cassius Winston had an incredible game as he showed that he should be the Big Ten Player of the year.

Many people were wondering if he could overcome the mental challenge of having to go up against Zavier Simpson who has had his number the last three meetings between these teams. He took those critics and put them in their place with everything he did.

Winston was a true facilitator in this game and had great vision all game long. He finished with a game-high 27 points and eight assists with two steals and only three turnovers and was not showing any signs of slowing down even though he played all 40 minutes in this game.

Cassius is the best player on this team has and if the Spartans have any chance of winning the Big Ten Tournament or making it to their first Final Four in four years, it will be through the play of this kid. He needs to continue to have the vision he had in this game against Michigan and make plays for his teammates. He also needs to turn on the offense when his team needs it.

This is exactly what Winston did against Michigan where 19 of his 27 points came in the second half. This team will live and die by Winston.

1. Michigan State is a legitimate contender

Many people, myself included, did not see Michigan State winning this game against Michigan. Michigan’s defense was just too good for the Spartans to overcome especially being shorthanded with Josh Langford and Nick Ward out — two of their top three scorers on the season were out and many were counting the Spartans out because of it.

This game goes to show that Tom Izzo has enough weapons at his disposal to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament this year. Xavier Tillman is only a sophomore and only has three starts under his belt but he did not let this big game get to him. He had 14 points shooting 6-for-8 from the floor with five rebounds. He did not let Jon Teske or the Wolverine crowd get to him and stepped it up in a big way.

Not only did players step up when needed but this Spartan team showed they are capable of playing a full 40 minutes. They came out with a chip on their shoulder and did not slow down. They had their weak moments but both halves were full of great play.

Michigan State will need to continue to play both halves of each game with this intensity and not just have a great second half if they want to be the team to beat. If the Spartans can play with the intensity they had in this game, they can beat anyone in the country. This team can be dangerous with the depth they have and Izzo at coach in March — any MSU fan should be thrilled with what this team accomplished and what they can accomplish this season.

dark. Next. MSU basketball: Game-by-game predictions for February

With the 77-70 win over the Wolverines, the Spartans will travel back to East Lansing and get some much-needed rest. They will have the entire week off as the get ready to play Indiana at their place on March 2.