Michigan State’s season isn’t over. It just feels like it.
A 72-52 thumping by Big Ten cellar dweller Iowa on Wednesday night sent everyone on the Spartans roster into a foul mood (and most of the area’s media). Understandable given that the Hawkeyes (9-13, 2-8 in Big Ten play) had lost their last five games vs. MSU.
Coach Tom Izzo: “I think that was the worst performance of a team that I’ve coached since I’ve been at Michigan State”.
Junior Delvon Roe: “It was embarrassing.”
Sophomore Derrick Nix: “We played awful. They just bullied us. We got bullied. … We got punked.”
And perhaps the most damming came from junior Draymond Green who said the team is “at rock bottom. I don’t know how much farther you can drop.”
Actually Draymond, it could be worse. Question is, will it?
At 13-9 overall and 5-5 in the Big Ten, the Spartans are hardly roadkill. They’re on NCAA tournament bubble, but before Iowa, it was a solid bubble. Many bracket projections had them as an 8 or a 9 seed (except for Jerry Palm’s).
A few timely home wins against the likes of Penn State, Illinois and Purdue would make just about everything OK again. A road win would be even better. Given the Spartans’ recent issues, those wins seem unlikely, but they’re impossible to rule out.
Also important: The rest of the tournament field also sucks. The question shouldn’t be if MSU sucks, it should be if it sucks less than everyone else on the bubble.
The Spartans aren’t playing up to their usual standards, they’re not winning the NCAA title, and the Final Four seems like a pipe dream. This was the team ranked No. 2 in the preseason polls?
But Michigan State has hardly hit bottom.
Ask Wake Forest about hitting bottom. Or DePaul. Those once-proud hoops programs are dealing with years of rebuilding. Former champs like Arkansas and N.C. State would love to have Michigan State’s problems right now.
Even worse would be the likes of Northwestern, which has never sniffed the NCAA tournament, let alone had much reason to fret about a .500 conference record.
That’s the rub with elite programs. When they fall short of high expectations – North Carolina last season – alarm bells ring because they hit a “rough patch.” MSU’s been to the last two Final Fours and six since ’99. A sub-par season isn’t terrible.
Put it this way: When a “rough patch” still entails making the NCAA tournament, life’s pretty good. (Especially if Izzo’s patented March magic ruins some other team’s tournament.)
Want more? I’m also on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.