If we say one thing about Michigan State after its 75-70 loss to Indiana on Sunday, let it be this: The Spartans made things interesting.
I don't mean that as consolation or condescension, but rather as an acknowledgement of what Tom Izzo's young team was up against on its trip to Bloomington.
The Hoosiers are 31-2 at Assembly Hall since Cody Zeller first stepped on campus a year ago. The list of players who have come up empty against Indiana over that period of time includes Trey Burke, Jared Sullinger, Draymond Green, Meyers Leonard, Robbie Hummel, Andre Hollins and Anthony Davis.
And those two losses? They came by a combined eight points
Along the spectrum of weighted possibilities, "making things interesting" was one of Michigan State's better potential outcomes, right next to "narrow win" and "crushingly close loss."
Which is why Spartans fans should be pleased with what their guys accomplished on Sunday. Michigan State went toe-to-toe with one of the nation's most complete teams, never granting Indiana even the illusion of comfort in a game that was ultimately decided in the final half-minute of play.
Sanguine sub-takeaways include:
- Center Adreian Payne outplaying the aforementioned Zeller;
- The continued maturation and growing confidence of blue-chip freshman Gary Harris, who co-led all scorers with 21;
- The Spartans outscoring Indiana in the second half despite not earning a single free throw (Indiana had 14 more attempts for the game);
- Shooting a shade under 50 percent from three.
Looking at this loss in the bigger picture of Michigan State's resume reveals more good things.
The Spartans are the only team in America to defeat Kansas. They've yet to lose at home. An early-season defeat against Miami looks better (or perhaps more excusable) by the week.
Most important of all, Michigan State's defense ranks 19th overall in adjusted efficiency according to kenpom.com, an indicator that Tom Izzo's team can sustain some offensive growing pains while still making a deep tournament run.
And while the media is sure to tout the Big 10 title race as a two-team tug-of-war between Michigan and Indiana, everything I saw Sunday suggests Michigan State should be right alongside those headliners every step of the way.
In America's best conference, the Spartans are quickly becoming a team worth watching.