This was supposed to be easy for Michigan State basketball.
The Spartans had the Big Ten’s most talented returning starter in Miles Bridges, one of the league’s top freshmen in Jaren Jackson Jr. and the best collection of young talent the conference had to offer. They rolled through the first two months of the season, with a loss to then-No. 1 Duke their only slipup before the new year.
But things have changed, and quickly. A trip to Columbus, Ohio, last week resulted in an 80-64 defeat at the hands of Ohio State. One road loss, even by double-digits, wasn’t necessarily cause for concern. But after needing overtime to beat Rutgers and losing to Michigan by 10, Michigan State suddenly looks human.
The Spartans are still young, starting four sophomores and one freshman, but now they have to show that they can stop the bleeding after three underwhelming performances. With Indiana (Friday) and Illinois (Monday, Jan. 22) up next, now’s the time to do that.
The rankings this week:
The Boilermakers haven’t lost since November. They came close in a 70-69 win over Michigan but edged out a win. After Michigan State’s slide, Purdue is deserving of the No. 1 spot.
2. Michigan State
Two losses don’t mean the end of the world, but coach Tom Izzo has some things to figure out.
Michigan’s 82-72 win over Michigan State on Saturday was great for the Wolverines. Michigan scored the most points on Michigan State since the Spartans’ loss to Duke in mid-November and exploited MSU’s turnover issues. Still, I think Michigan State’s whole résumé is just slightly better than Michigan’s. But it’s real close.
4. Ohio State
Ohio State is not far behind Michigan, a team it beat earlier this season. The Buckeyes crushed Maryland then beat Rutgers by more points than Michigan State did this week.
Ohio State crushed the Terps 91-69 on Thursday. Mark Turgeon’s team doesn’t have a bad loss yet, but the Terps seem destined for a hard fall against Michigan on Monday.
6. Penn State
Penn State’s “improved season” narrative has come crashing down after a loss to Indiana and a 2-point win over Nebraska. Still, the teams below them have worse problems than the Nittany Lions do. Coach Pat Chambers’ job status could become a hot topic with more losses to the following teams.
Beat Wisconsin by 4. Lost to Penn State by 2. This seems appropriate.
Drove Northwestern into the ground in a 66-46 win on Sunday and beat Penn State 74-70 on Tuesday. That has the Hoosiers looking better, but this graphic is a bit of a stretch.
Indiana is certainly building its Tournament profile today. pic.twitter.com/nN9v3BVqQu
— CBS Sports CBB (@CBSSportsCBB) January 14, 2018
Northwestern is in a bad place. The Wildcats were not competitive for the third time in four games, with their only win coming against a Minnesota team in free fall.
The Gophers are in a worse place than Northwestern in just about every way. A third sexual-assault allegation against suspended forward Reggie Lynch emerged last week, and Minnesota lost two humiliating games. First came a 83-60 loss to Northwestern team. Then came an 81-47 loss to Purdue. Remember when this team was supposed to be an NCAA Tournament lock?
Beat Illinois in overtime, but that doesn’t really get you anything.
Lost to Nebraska by 4, which also doesn’t get you anything.
Showed some real fight in an overtime loss to Michigan State. That’s enough to move the Scarlet Knights out of the bottom spot.
That loss to Iowa was Illinois’ third in a row. Big Ten play isn’t going to go great in Bruce Underwood’s first season, though that’s expected.
Game you should watch this week
Indiana at Michigan State, 7 p.m. ET on Friday, FS1. This is the Spartans’ chance to prove they’ve fixed their mistakes, and the Hoosiers’ chance to show they might be able to put some early losses behind them.
See you back here next week.