A week ago, the Spartans’ visit to Illinois ended with Draymond Green on the sidelines battling an injured knee and his team going down in a heartbreaking 42-41 defeat. Despite Ohio State’s 1.5-game lead in the Big Ten, though, there’s still plenty of time for Tom Izzo’s team to rally and capture its third regular-season title in four years.
Here are the key factors that are working in the Spartans’ favor over the final weeks of the regular season:
Draymond Green isn’t going anywhere
As important as it was to learn that Green’s knee injury was only a sprain that left his status at day-to-day, it was even bigger to find out that it won’t keep him from being his usual overpowering self on the court. Green proved that in spades in beating Michigan on Sunday.
Green dominated the Wolverines’ front line with 14 points (on 7-for-11 shooting) and 16 rebounds, not to mention tying for the team lead with four assists. With their best player still able to play at his best, the Spartans have a real chance to beat any team in the country, including first-place Ohio State.
And speaking of the Buckeyes…
Michigan State has plenty of control over its own destiny
The Spartans face a brutal conclusion to the schedule that includes four games (of their final eight) against ranked opponents. The silver lining, though, is that Michigan State doesn’t have to hope for help from any other team.
The Spartans play two games against conference-leading Ohio State, starting on Saturday night in Columbus. It’s not going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination, but MSU still has the opportunity to sweep the Buckeyes and grab control of first place based purely on its own performance.
Even if the Spartans “only” manage a split against Ohio State, the Buckeyes must still travel to Ann Arbor, giving Jared Sullinger and company a very real chance to suffer an extra loss and leave Michigan State holding a share of first place by season’s end.
There’s no team better suited to the personality of the league
Big Ten basketball, more than any other conference in the country, is about physicality and defense. Tom Izzo’s best teams have always depended on being tougher than the next guy, and this year’s model is no exception.
Michigan State’s outstanding defense—only Wisconsin is holding opponents to a lower field-goal percentage than the Spartans’ 37.9 mark—is just part of their edge in this conference environment. The Spartans are pulling down 39.9 rebounds a game, 11th in the nation and solidly at the top of the Big Ten.
For all that they’ve lost a couple of heartbreakers, this team is well suited to playing and winning close games. There’s no better recipe for taking home the conference title than that.