Michigan State basketball gets upgraded to "should be in" in ESPN Bracketology

Illinois v Michigan State
Illinois v Michigan State / Rey Del Rio/GettyImages
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Michigan State basketball earned a much-needed win over the Illini over the weekend, winning (and covering the spread) 88-80.

This game had everything. Double-digit lead changes, technical fouls, post touches that resulted in zero points, but also timely shots and fantastic defense by the Spartans to finally close out a game. Yes, the Spartans were favored, but let's not overlook the importance of beating a top-10 team. It was a game that the Spartans needed, where as a loss would have put them deep in the "work to do" category.

Let's dive into how they won this game and what work is left to do.

How they won

Early on, we all knew this would be a dog fight. There were moments in the game where Illinois looked like it could take command, holding eight-point leads in both halves, but the Spartans showed resilience, using a 12-2 run in the first half and a 16-4 run in the second to show flashes of why they were a top-five team at the beginning of the season.

While the Spartans had the edge in points in the paint, the Illini showed how easy it was for anyone to make a 3-pointer when there's no one guarding you shooting an unsustainable 43 percent in the first half, only to have it carry over to the first 10 minutes of the second half, going 4-for-9. Finally, Illinois cooled off, only making one of their last seven deep shots. As mentioned before, the Spartans had success in transition and in the paint thanks to AJ Hoggard, Tyson Walker, and Malik Hall, who combined for 64 of the Spartans' 88 points while only making three 3-point shots between them.

But when the chips where down and Illinois looked to take the road win, it was these three players that drove the comeback victory, scoring 21 combined points in the last 7:38.

Closing out games has been the Spartans' kryptonite this season but having your leaders lead in time of adversity is exactly what you want out of the program at this point of the season.

What else helped seal the win? Making free throws.

After an abysmal showing against Minnesota, Malik Hall responded with a 7-for-9 clip and Hoggard made an astounding 12-of-13. Yes, the officiating was largely awful, but that's not under the control of the players. They controlled what they could and responded like the players we always thought they were.

On the other end of the court, the defense forced turnovers and grabbed crucial rebounds after it looked like they were going to get cooked on the boards early in the game. The question going forward is if Tom Izzo can keep this team playing a high level while getting more out of the center position (seven points combined from three players in 32 minutes).