As Michigan State was practicing on Sunday night in preparation for Tuesday’s game at Indiana, coach Tom Izzo got the news — his team had clinched a share of the Big Ten championship.
Ohio State’s loss at home to Wisconsin assured the Spartans of at least that, and count me as one of the many who didn’t see this coming. I thought all along, especially after the first two games of the season, that this team would be better by the end. But a Big Ten title? I can’t admit to believing that.
What this team has done this season has been remarkable, from the amazing play of Draymond Green, to the steady emergence of Austin Thornton, to the impressive bounce-back from Derrick Nix, to the consistent improvement of freshmen Branden Dawson, Travis Trice and Brandan Kearney, it has been a complete team effort.
It’s something, really, to see what chemistry truly means to a team’s success. This team epitomizes it and with that and their suffocating defense and dominating rebounding, there should be no limit. Will they win the NCAA title? Who knows? There are plenty of good teams out there. Can they? Yes, and that is the most impressive thing of all.
There are still the pressing matters of winning the title outright and getting the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament. That alone is enough to give you a headache. Let’s say this, MSU’s chances of not being the top seed are pretty slim. Basically, the only way the Spartans are not No. 1 is if they finish in a two-way tie with Michigan and Northwestern wins its final two games and Purdue loses its final two games. A three-way tie with UM and Ohio State gets even more silly, so I’m not even explaining. Let’s just say it looks good for MSU to be the top seed.
One more thing, here’s what Izzo had to say on Sunday night after learning of Ohio State’s loss:
“It’s kind of weird when you are at a practice and you find out that you’ve at least shared part of a Big Ten Championship because we cherish those. And you’re right, every year that is a goal of ours – now it’s a goal no matter how good we are. I would admit that this year it wasn’t the first goal because we thought getting better every day was needed to even have a chance at a Big Ten Championship. And then when we got where we’re in the hunt, we reassessed our goals and started moving forward. Now that part of it is there, the ultimate goal of any basketball, football team is to win an outright Big Ten Championship. So I won’t lie – we’re excited and proud of what’s been accomplished so far, but it’s miniscule compared to what we have a chance to accomplish down the road. And we’re going to keep working for our ultimate goals, which as we reassess, are now to win the Big Ten outright, to be playing our best basketball at the end of the year, to go into the Big Ten Tournament feeling good about ourselves, to try to get the highest seed we can get which will help us in the NCAA Tournament. So because of that I can’t really talk much about this because it’s just one small part that at the end of the year will become a major part no matter what ends up happening. But for right now it’s just one more mile marker on our trip to the ultimate goal.”
“DayDay and Austin are even more important now. We knew going into this (upcoming week) that we could play awfully good and come back 0-2. That’s just the way it is in the Big Ten as we’ve learned so vividly in the last couple of days. It’ pretty exciting the opportunity we have and all I said is ‘guys, let’s keep our eyes on the prize.’ The prize has been reassessed and re-evaluated and we’ve kind of upped it a little bit. And that’s a good thing, that’s not a bad thing. I am going to rely on Draymond and Austin, rely on my staff and I’m going to talk about this tonight and then I’m going to focus in on the job we have and probably not talk about it again until the banquet.”