The Michigan State Spartans, led by veteran coach Tom Izzo, started the season ranked No. 5 in the country and had high expectations to go with that ranking.
The Spartans have had their share of early setbacks, starting in the Old Spice Classic when they dropped a clunker to unranked Maryland by a score of 80-62. In that game, the Spartans were plagued by poor free throw shooting and the Spartans' biggest star, Raymar Morgan, only took three shots in 14 minutes and was in foul trouble the entire game.
The 35-point loss to North Carolina was the biggest setback of the season, as UNC star Tyler Hansbrough scored 23 points and pulled in 11 rebounds. At the time the Spartans were without 6'10" center Goran Suton to try to counter Hansbrough on the defensive glass.
The Spartans were eventually run out of the gym by the much superior Tar Heels by a score of 98-73. Had it not been for some late Michigan State points, the debacle would've been Izzo's worst loss since losing to Iowa by 36 in his first season as coach.
Since the two early season slip-ups, the Spartans have welcomed Suton back into the lineup and have run off eight straight wins since the loss to North Carolina with the notable wins being against then-No. 5 Texas, and then wins against Big Ten rivals then No. 21 Minnesota, conference RPI rank 10 Northwestern, and most recently, a defensive triumph over Ohio State.
Michigan State (12-2, 3-0 Big Ten) currently leads the conference by a half-game over Wisconsin. Next up, they will be meeting the defending national champion Kansas Jayhawks and the Penn State Nittany Lions before resuming a four-game stretch of conference play.
The Spartans' weakness as far as I can judge so far this season has been their sometimes poor free throw shooting, which did them in during the two losses to North Carolina and Maryland.
The Spartans will need their stars—Raymar Morgan, Travis Walton, then Suton, and the oft-injured Delvon Roe—to step up and have better free throw shooting. They need Suton to continue to wear down teams defensively on the defensive glass.
More analysis to come.
This picture is courtesy of the Michigan State Basketball website. I stake no claim or interest in the photo. It belongs to Michigan State University and their Athletic Department.