Photo Credit: Lansing State Journal
On Sunday afternoon Michigan State marched into the Chrisler Center and ended Michigan’s 22 home game win streak in a 77-70 victory to move into solo first place of the Big 10. Despite being down two of their best players (Josh Langford and Nick Ward), Michigan State played a great game of basketball putting up 77 points on the road against one of the best defenses in the country. Langford is out for the season, and Ward is out at least a few more weeks but should be back for the NCAA Tournament (however he may not be at full health). Despite all of this bad luck, Michigan State finds themselves atop the Big 10 and will surely move up even higher in the AP Top 10 after Sunday’s win. The question is, without two of their best players, how far can this Spartan team go?
When Langford was determined out for the season many people (myself included) counted them out for any sort of Final Four contention. However, since Langford’s last game Michigan State is 12-3 and remains one of the top teams in the country. Now the odds are even more stacked against them with Ward’s future health in question. Even before these two injuries I questioned whether or not Michigan State had the talent to make a deep tournament run, but now it seems even less likely that this team- led by the likes of Cassius Winston, Matt McQuaid, and the frontcourt duo of Xavier Tillman and Kenny Goins- can make a deep run in March. But can we count them out with 100% certainty?
Michigan State just proved yet again that no matter the hand they are dealt they can win big games even away from home. In addition, they clearly have the experience and coaching needed to do well in the tournament. Winston, McQuaid, and Goins are all upperclassmen and even Tillman has some tournament experience. Giving a coach like Tom Izzo this much experience to work with typically is a formula for success, but despite all of this I still have a hard time believing this team’s talent level without Langford and Ward is enough to make it to Minneapolis.
If Winston can put up a string of performances in March like the one yesterday in Ann Arbor then maybe they have a shot, but I just don’t see that happening. Stat lines of 27 points and 8 assists do not come easily in March, and without performances like this, I don’t think the Spartans can win four tournament games in a row. You’d think I’d learn my lesson after continuously doubting MSU and watching them win big games like the one yesterday, but I cannot bring myself to call this roster a Final Four roster especially if Nick Ward doesn’t return or is not 100% when he does return. If Ward is back to normal then there may be a sliver of hope for the Spartans, but if his hand doesn’t heal properly then there is zero chance a Ward-less Michigan State team will be playing in Minneapolis.