The Spartans won a pivotal game last night at Breslin, a game that I contend they HAD to have. Granted, the victim was Iowa, a team that has been struggling mightily of late, but so have the Spartans. Iowa and MSU traded baskets for most of the first half, but the Spartans completely dominated the second half en route to locking up a bye in the Big Ten tournament and clinching at least a 12-6 record in conference play.
Now, I've heard some people downplay MSU's win over Iowa, and while I won't argue that the Hawkeyes have a great team, consider the alternative. A loss last night, in the final home game of the season, on senior day--for a team that is already struggling--would have been potentially devastating.
So I guess the question is, where do the Spartans go from here? It finally looks like the team is reasonably healthy and is at least in the process of gelling as a unit, which has been impossible for the last several weeks with all the nagging injuries this team has endured throughout the conference season. But how far MSU basketball goes from this point is impossible to say. Maybe it will help that, to a certain extent, the Spartans have fallen off the radar. Perhaps the pressure to succeed won't weigh too heavily on them. Also, maybe the difficulties and disappointments they've experienced this season will actually help to strengthen them heading into the postseason. Who knows? I wouldn't be surprised to see MSU make the Final Four, yet on the other hand I wouldn't be entirely shocked to see them bow out in the first round.
Coaching in the Big Ten this season is as good as I remember it being since at least the 1980s, when Jud Heathcote, Gene Keady, Lou Henson, and Bob Knight were prowling the sidelines. John Beilein may be the best Michigan coach since Johnny Orr and has done a brilliant job with the Wolverines. Tim Miles has brought a youthful vigor to Nebraska and has done marvels with that program. No matter who his players are, it's almost a guarantee that Bo Ryan will have the Wisconsin Badgers in the upper half of the Big Ten, defying everyone's expectations. And what more is there to say about what Tom Izzo has done over the last 19 years at Michigan State.
But the list of great Big Ten coaches goes on: Thad Matta always has Ohio State competing at a high level, Tom Crean has reinvigorated Indiana (though I'm sure he, along with nobody else, will ever equal Bob Knight in the eyes of Hoosier fans); Minnesota's Richard Pitino may look a lot like Chatsworth Osborne III from the old Dobie Gillis show, but he's an up-and-coming coach who employs the full-court press with the same fervor as his dad; and newer coaches like Pat Chambers (Penn State) and Chris Collins (Northwestern) have taken bottom feeder programs and at least raised them to the level where a game against them isn't practically a guaranteed win. So what I'm getting at, in a long-winded fashion, is that it's more difficult to win in the Big Ten than it has been in a long time.