Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo talks with Adreian Payne (5) during a break in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in West Lafayette, Ind. Michigan State defeated Purdue 79-94. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
Updated: April 5, 2014 6:29AM
Will the Big Ten’s most talented team find itself this week before it’s almost too late?
Michigan State (22-7), ranked 18th in the country, can be excused for not playing dominant basketball from start to finish as many expected it would. Point guard Keith Appling has a bum right wrist that has all but wiped out his perimeter game. Forward Brandon Dawson has played one game after missing more than a month with a broken hand. Big man Adreian Payne missed time with a foot injury.
We’re talking about three of the Spartans’ top four players. That’ll stop any team from realizing its No. 1 potential during the grind of the regular season.
But the Spartans are back at full strength now — at least, Tom Izzo has all of his players available — and, following a terrible performance in a weekend loss to Illinois, they’ve got to click in a hurry or else a season of great opportunity will just fade away.
Before MSU takes a run at the Big Ten tourney title, it could use a big 2-0 at home against Iowa (Thursday) and at Ohio State (Sunday). If Sparty suddenly gets it going, forget all that has happened previously. This team still is talented enough to win a national championship.
Big Ten bubble teams
They’ve gone from gloomy to guarded to almost giddy in Champaign. First, it looked like a losing season was likely. Then, a postseason berth in the lowly CBI tourney or even the NIT began to seem very real. Now? With the Illini on a three-game winning streak, folks are wondering if this team (17-12 overall, 6-10 Big Ten) has a prayer to make the Big Dance.
It’s still a long shot of long shots.
More likely to get in: both Minnesota and Nebraska, teams the Illini have beaten during their streak.
The Gophers (18-12, 7-10) have a strong RPI and strength-of-schedule rankings. If they beat Penn State in Minneapolis on Sunday, that might be all it takes. One win in the league tourney in Indianapolis would lock it up.
The Huskers (17-11, 9-7) would earn all the selection-committee love they need by winning at Indiana and at home against Wisconsin in Sunday’s regular-season finale.
Indiana (17-12, 7-9) is basically in the same boat as Illinois. Not a great place to be at this point.
This week’s tournaments
Wichita State (Missouri Valley) and Gonzaga (West Coast) will be competing for championships this week. If they fall short, it’ll be bad for bubble teams everywhere because both the Shockers and (almost certainly) the Bulldogs will still make the NCAAs.
In the dance, win or lose
From the Atlantic 10: Saint Louis, VCU and Massachusetts.
From the Mountain West: San Diego State and New Mexico.
Those league tourneys are next week, as is the first-ever American Athletic event. Is the American a major or a mid-major? On the court, the question becomes laughable — Louisville, Cincinnati, Memphis, Connecticut and SMU will all be dancing.