ESPN's Bubble Watch gives Michigan State basketball the "work to do" label

Michigan State v Minnesota
Michigan State v Minnesota / David Berding/GettyImages

Look, it's no secret that Michigan State basketball has fallen short of its lofty preseason expectations. A top-four ranking and a national title contender are high expectations, but with the returning talent and a top-three incoming freshman class, the Spartans look poised to compete in the Big Ten.

Long story short, the Spartans are not competing for the Big Ten and range from No. 8 seed to a play-in game in the latest bracketology projections.

The Minnesota loss just makes things that much tougher. Yes, winning on the road in the Big Ten is hard this year with road teams winning just 31 percent of the time. But when a good, not even great, team is up nine with 13 minutes to go, it should be able to close it out. But then again, a senior point guard should make more than one basket in 30 minutes and a senior forward should shoot better than 17 percent from the free throw line. The center position should have more than eight points combined or not get out-rebounded 21-14 in the second half when no one worth meaningful minutes is taller than 6-foot-9 on Minnesota.

But that just sums up the 2023-24 season for the Spartans.

So now, ESPN should change their projection to "a ton of work to do." We all thought the schedule would lighten up but without a road victory at Minnesota, how can anyone say the games at Penn State (who has a home win against a top 15 Wisconsin) and Michigan (Izzo hasn't won at Crisler since 2019) are gimme wins? Home games against Illinois, Iowa, Ohio State, and Northwestern will be a grind with two of those teams ranking higher than MSU and Iowa nipping at their heels.

Let's say 20 wins guarantees a tournament spot. With eight games remaining and six wins needed, can anyone look at this team and say they're capable of going 6-2 including a game at Mackey to take on Purdue and the season finale at Indiana?

While the coaches and players didn't rank themselves in the top-five at the beginning of the season, they knew that a lot of was expected of them in the 2023-24 campaign. It was supposed to be a breath of fresh air after the disaster of the football season. It was supposed to be our answer to watching Michigan football win a national freaking title. It was supposed to be Izzo being old reliable when it comes to producing a winning product.

Instead, we're left with this: four straight years of mediocrity. Three of four years of first weekend exits and one Sweet 16 which is the MSU basketball equivalent of winning the Citrus Bowl. It might be good for other programs, but not this one. Championships are the expectation and Izzo is slipping further and further away from that expectation with every season.

And yes, he very well could slip his "Mr. March" hat on and make us all look like fools for doubting him, but that hat has been buried in the closet for four years. If Mr. March can't coach his players like he wants to in order to get the most out of them like he keeps saying, maybe it's time the university hires someone who can.