When Michigan State struggled early in the season, few thought much of it. It has come to be expected from a Tom Izzo team that they will start to play well when it really matters. The Spartans may not always look like a Final Four quality team in November and December, but come February and March, Izzo has a knack for getting his team in shape.
Last season, Michigan State started their season out with two losses, to North Carolina and Duke. Trouble in East Lansing? No, the Spartans won 29 of their next 34 games before making it to the Sweet 16.
This season, the Spartans had a very similar start to their season. They started their season out with a loss to Connecticut on a boat, before going on a stretch where lesser opponents routinely almost upset them at home. There was nothing impressive about Michigan State in December, they were just barely winning over bad teams.
Yet, nobody really panicked about Michigan State. We waited for Izzo to figure out his team, without the services of Draymond Green. Everyone who followed Michigan State basketball knew Izzo would figure out how to manage his duo of big men, Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne. Did people doubt how Izzo would deal with his backcourt freshmen, Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine, along with star Kieth Appling? No, because Izzo just knows how to make things work. Izzo understands that the games that matter come in February and March, not in December.
So, now Michigan State appears to be a national title contender. They have gone from unimpressive wins over bad teams in December, to beating Michigan by 23 points in mid-February. Michigan State is an elite team, with absolutely dominant big men (Nix and Payne absolutely destroyed Michigan in the paint, winning the rebounding battle 40-28) and two star scorers in the backcourt. Harris is playing like a guy who wants to be a high draft pick in June, shooting 47% on three pointers and averaging 15 ppg in his last five games, to go along with Appling.
Everything is coming together for Izzo and Michigan State. They now sit at 21-4, no. 8 in the country and on fire after their showing of in-state dominance Tuesday. This season has been just another example of how great of a college basketball coach Izzo is. He has the ability to see his team lose early and look bad, while the national media dismisses them, and then put everything together to make them an elite team by February.