Michigan State Breaks Out of Funk as Matt Costello Helps Fuel Sparty Resurgence

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Michigan State Breaks Out of Funk as Matt Costello Helps Fuel Sparty Resurgence
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Denzel Valentine can do it all for Michigan State, but Matt Costello has proved time and again he doesn't have to go it alone.

The 6'9" senior forward was absolutely everywhere Saturday night in No. 11 Michigan State's 74-65 win over No. 7 Maryland, playing an invaluable role in snapping what had been a three-game losing streak for the Spartans.

It wasn't just the 15 points and 12 reboundshis fourth double-double in the last nine gamesthat made Costello stand out.

He played outstanding defense in the post to limit Diamond Stone to just three field-goal attempts. In scoring only six points, it was the first time in nearly two months that Stone failed to finish a game in double figures.

Costello also hedged on ball screens to keep Melo Trimble from doing whatever he wanted on the pick-and-pop plays Maryland tried to run all night long.

And every time Michigan State seemed like it could desperately use a block or an offensive rebound, there was Costello making it happen.

"I was watching him work," senior guard Bryn Forbes told Jeff Seidel of the Detroit Free Press after the game. "He was getting every big rebound, block, diving on the floor, doing everything."

Even Tom Izzo was no match for Costello, as the big man picked up his head coach in a bear hug and jubilantly spun him around like a rag doll. ESPN provided highlights:

Don't call it a breakout party, though.

That started a little over a month ago.

Prior to Valentine's knee surgery, Costello had been held to single digits in nine consecutive games, tallying more than six rebounds just once during that stretch. But no Spartan capitalized on Valentine's absence quite like Costello, as he has averaged 13.0 points and 11.1 rebounds per game over the past five weeks.

"Denzel Valentine is their best player, but Matt Costello has been their toughest player," said Jay Bilas during ESPN's telecast of the game.

As of late, though, Costello actually has been their best guy.

Blasphemy, I know, but numbers don't lie. 

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
Yep. This is the guy running a freight train through every other frontcourt in the Big Ten.

According to Sports-Reference.com, Costello entered the night averaging 0.236 win shares per 40 minutes in conference play, good for best on the team by a considerable margin. (Valentine ranked second among MSU's regulars at 0.179.)

KenPom.com also adores what Costello has been up to in Big Ten play. With a 124.2 O-rating, he ranks 15th in the conference. He's also second in offensive rebounding percentage, third in defensive rebounding percentage and top-20 in block percentage, steal percentage, turnover rate, free-throw rate and two-point percentage.

Outside of maybe Iowa's Jarrod Uthoff, there's not a Big Ten player making more of an overall impact than Costello. And after his role in a must-win game against Maryland—not for tournament-bid purposes but to fix the Terrapins' fractured psyche—the world has finally noticed how much of an impact he can make for the team that still leads the nation in number of weeks spent at No. 1 in the AP Top 25 (four).

All that to say it was just business as usual for Costello. He was fantastic, but that's nothing neweven though it wasn't until this game that the national media finally took notice.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Rather, it was Bryn Forbes' return to normalcy that really made the difference.

Forbes is the definition of an all-or-nothing shooting guard. He's not going to give you many assists or reboundshe had just one of each Saturday nightand he doesn't play much defense. But when he's feeling it, it's a thing of beauty.

Including the game against Maryland, he is shooting 50.9 percent from three-point range and averaging 15.6 points per game in Michigan State's 17 wins.

In the Spartans' four losses, though, the career 42.2 percent gunner went 3-of-18 (16.7 percent) from downtown and averaged 5.0 points per game.

To say the least, getting him back on track was kind of a big deal, as ESPN's Dana O'Neil noted on Twitter early in the game:

Unfortunately, Eron Harris fell by the wayside in the process—but isn't that what makes Michigan State even scarier going forward?

When Forbes has struggled this season, Harris has picked up the slack. The West Virginia transfer averaged 14.0 points and shot 8-of-13 (61.5 percent) from three-point range in Michigan State's four losses, but he had just seven points on eight field-goal attempts Saturday and was embarrassed by a Trimble crossover on more than one occasion.

Try to imagine what could happen if Valentine, Costello, Forbes and Harris all show up on the same night and do that for six straight games in March and April. They each played pretty well against Penn State and won that road game by a 92-65 margin, but that's the only time this season that at least one of them didn't have an off night.

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Moreover, Deyonta Davisa near-lock for a spot on the Big Ten All-Freshman teamdidn't do much of anything against the Terps, and Tum Tum Nairn was forced to watch another game from the bench while battling plantar fasciitis, according to Kyle Austin of MLive.com.

Valentine (19 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists) had his best game since returning to the court, but the Spartans weren't even remotely playing with a full deck, and they still took care of business against the country's seventh-best team.

They have likely already suffered too many losses to win the Big Ten regular-season title, but let's not forget Tom Izzo's teams always find another gear when the calendar flips to March.

If the Spartans' best is yet to come, it sure will be refreshing to finally stop hearing there aren't any elite teams this season.

 

Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.

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