Closing out 2012 with a win was the goal for the Michigan State Spartans on New Year's Eve.
However, they were met by a hungry—and then No. 9-ranked—Minnesota Golden Gophers team and were smacked with an embarrassing 76-63 loss at Williams Arena.
At the time, Minnesota was red hot; it's only loss of the year was an 89-71 setback to the then-No. 5 Duke Blue Devils.
By the looks of things—at the time, that is—Tubby Smith had his Gophers on track to be a surprise team in the Big Ten. People were talking about Minnesota, and a bright future was easy to forecast.
However, the Gophers have won twice in their past six outings. Michigan State, on the other hand, has trudged its way through a challenging conference schedule and is fresh off of an 80-75 home victory over the Illinois Fighting Illini, who led 37-27 at the break.
A scare is what the Spartans (18-4, 7-2) needed in order to get their minds concentrated back on the prize: a Big Ten title.
Was the narrow escape a fluke? Are the Spartans ripe for the picking after barely beating out an unranked foe?
What about the Gophers? Should they be feared, or should they be discarded as a flash-in-the-pan, once-hot team that has come back down to Earth?
There are a handful of factors that will surely dictate the outcome of Wednesday's showdown at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, but none are more important than the following five.