Michigan State basketball picked up a great win on the road in Maryland on Sunday afternoon. After a fantastic first half offensively and defensively, the Spartans came out flat in the second half, and what looked to be a blowout win quickly turned into a nail-biter.
Nonetheless, Michigan State would rather win ugly than lose pretty this time of year. The Spartans are now on a three-game win streak, but things do not get any easier.
Michigan State plays at Wisconsin on Friday night. Then on Tuesday, they play at home versus in-state rival Michigan. These next two games are critical for the Spartans, as getting two wins could propel them to a 14-7 record with the last two months of the season ahead of them.
Michigan State lost at home 70-57 earlier this season against the Badgers. The Spartans did not play well, but it has to be said that the Wisconsin point guard AJ Storr, a 30 percent 3-point shooter, hit four threes that game. Also, Wisconsin big man Steven Crowl, who has only hit 12 threes all season, went 4-for-4 from deep against Michigan State which without a doubt put a dagger in the Spartans.
It was a lackluster effort by Michigan State overall, but Wisconsin's ability to hit big shots from the different players really killed the Spartans. Michigan State star Tyson Walker also did not practice leading up to the Wisconsin game and played sick.
But enough with the excuses, Michigan State needs to come out firing on Friday night. Wisconsin is at the top of the Big Ten standings and this is a game where Michigan State cannot afford to play from behind. Wisconsin is at the top of the conference in field goal percentage, and defensive rebound percentage, so the Spartans need to capitalize on their opportunities.
Michigan State has played well in Madison as they have won the last three in the Kohl Center, but this is by far the best Wisconsin team during that stretch. Winning this game would help Michigan State in the NET rankings, which it needs to rack up the Quad 1 wins to help its case for a better seed during the NCAA Tournament this March.
On Jan. 30, Michigan comes to town. The Wolverines will be leaving behind star point guard Dug McDaniel, as he is serving a six-game road suspension. This is one Izzo wants to win, and you can bet Michigan will be throwing its best punch on the road given the hatred between the two schools.
Michigan has struggled this year. The Wolverines are 7-12 overall and have only won one game in their last eight. Michigan's lone win in January came against Ohio State which has also fared poorly in Big Ten play this season.
This is a must-win game for Izzo, as this will likely be a Quad 3 game for Michigan State. The Spartans cannot afford a Quad 3 loss on the resume. On top of that, the Spartan fanbase could genuinely use a win versus Michigan for bragging purposes.
Losing to a rival stings, but it also will be extremely punishing to the Spartans from the analytics side of things which Michiagn State cannot afford after their mediocre start to the year.
As dumb as it may sound, 14-7 looks light years better than a 12-9 record. winning these last two games in January could be the turning point in the year. Finishing strong and having a five-game winning streak at the start of February will be something that will pay dividends for the Spartans come March. It would cement Michigan State right near the top of the Big Ten standings and be a sign this team has turned away from their early season struggles.
On the contrary, losing these next two would kill any momentum Michigan State has created over this winning streak. Fans will become angry, making the tourney will once again become a struggle and Izzo will go on another rant about toughness and how he has failed his guys. This is a press conference we're all tired of hearing.
This is an exciting time for college basketball and these next two games for Michigan State should be a fun watch for the fanbase as it could determine the direction of this team going forward.