Michigan State Basketball: Spartans' L to Indiana Makes Illinois Game Must-Win
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The torrential seas of the Big Ten can sink any ship, and that was clearly evident Sunday when the Indiana Hoosiers squeaked out a 75-70 win over the visiting Michigan State Spartans.
Riding a six-game winning streak, the 13th-ranked Spartans (17-4, 6-2) entered Assembly Hall in Bloomington with something to prove. Although they fell short by five points, the Spartans certainly did an admirable job of keeping pace with coach Tom Crean's seventh-ranked Hoosiers (18-2, 6-1) in front of one of the most hostile crowds in the league.
If five losses are the benchmark—the deciding gauge of who wins the Big Ten regular-season title and who doesn't—Michigan State must emerge victorious Thursday when it hosts the Illinois Fighting Illini (15-5, 2-4) in an effort to remain near the top of the conference pecking order.
Does the loss to Indiana make Illinois a must-win for Michigan State?
Beating the struggling Illini in East Lansing shouldn't be an impossible task, but given the quality of the Big Ten, it won't be easy. No court is safe—whether it is home or away—and Spartans coach Tom Izzo will likely emphasize the importance of avoiding a third league loss before inviting the No. 12 Minnesota Gophers (15-5, 3-4) and the No. 2 Michigan Wolverines (18-1, 6-1) to the Breslin Center on Feb. 6 and 12, respectively.
Looking Down the Road
The Big Ten gains national attention every minute. Games like Sunday's between Michigan State and Indiana only strengthen arguments of the Big Ten being the deepest, most-talented and well-rounded conference in all of college hoops.
In all likelihood, college basketball followers will see a Big Ten squad make its way to the Final Four—the conference is that dangerous.
The Spartans stole one on the road in Madison via a 49-47 nerve-racking victory over the Wisconsin Badgers five days ago. That win came three days after Izzo X'd and O'd his way past Ohio State at the Breslin Center, 59-56.
Again, no court is safe. Home or away, it doesn't matter.
Capturing momentum is the key. Stringing together a six-game win streak in the Big Ten—as the Spartans did before being dropped by the Hoosiers—will be a monumental task for any team this season.
Overlooking any opponent, especially at this stage of the season, is a one-way ticket to nowhere.
Here's a glance at Michigan State's remaining league schedule (rankings were accurate as of Jan. 27)
Note: A "*" indicates team with winning conference record as of Jan. 27
Jan. 31 vs. Illinois
Feb. 6 vs. No. 12 Minnesota (lost previous meeting, 76-63)
Feb. 9 at Purdue
*Feb. 12 vs. No. 2 Michigan
Feb. 16 at Nebraska
*Feb. 19 vs. No. 7 Indiana
*Feb. 24 at No. 14 Ohio State
*March 2 at No. 2 Michigan
*March 7 vs. Wisconsin
March 10 vs. Northwestern
Like the rest in the Big Ten, the Spartans will have about five league duels against AP Top 25-ranked competition. That number could be as many as six or seven, depending on Wisconsin and Purdue's future showings.
Note: Two duels with a No. 1 ranked team could be waiting in the wings, as the Wolverines look like one of the most complete ensembles in the nation. A home-road split would be ideal for Izzo.
Luckily for Michigan State, three of those matches take place within the friendly confines of the Breslin Center, an arena that Izzo wins in better than 90 percent of the time (214-21, 91.1 winning percentage; record accurate prior to star of 2012-12 season).
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
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