Thirteenth ranked Michigan State (17-3; 6-1 Big Ten) came into the day atop of the very deep and competitive Big Ten Conference. They faced arguably their toughest opponent of the year, the seventh ranked Indiana Hoosiers (17-2; 5-1 Big Ten) at the rough and rowdy Assembly Hall in Bloomington. Despite a valiant effort, the Spartans came up on the short-end of a typical tough and smashmouth Big Ten game (75-70). Freshman Gary Harris, a Fishers, IN native, led the way for the Spartans with 21 points on 6-13 shooting, along with 2 assists and 2 steals in 33 minutes as he silenced the raucous and tough Hoosier crowd with a strong homecoming performance. Indiana was hard pressed in trying to sway the 2012 McDonald's All-American and Mr. Basketball in Indiana away from the Spartans this past year, but failed. Junior Center Adreian Payne also contributed with 18 points on 7-10 shooting, not to mention showing off his range with 3-4 in three-point field goals, along with 9 boards and one block.
The Spartans are in the middle of the toughest part of their Big Ten schedule as 3 of their last 6 games have been away from comfort of the Breslin Center. Also 3 of their next 6 games are against teams ranked in the AP Top 25 (2/6 vs Minnesota, 2/12 vs Michigan, 2/19 vs Indiana), along with 2 road games at Purdue and Nebraska. The Big Ten is one of the toughest conferences in America with 5 teams ranked in the Top 25 ( #2 Michigan, #7 Indiana, #12 Minnesota, #13 Michigan State, #14 Ohio State), along with 2 additional teams (Wisconsin & Illinois) knocking on the door.
With the Spartans being such a young team; only having one senior, Foward Derrick Nix, many expected their youth to catch up with them in midst of a typical tough Tom Izzo non-conference schedule along with the rugged Big Ten portion. Many think they have already exceeded expectations by being ranked in the top 15, but even if they falter in a few of their remaining games in the regular season, don't count Tom Izzo and the Spartans out. In 2 of the past 4 years, Izzo has led Michigan State to the Final Four and if you discount the early first round exit to UCLA (78-76) in 2011, the Spartans have at least reached the Sweet 16 in 5 of the past 8 years and the Elite 8 in 2 of the last 4. So what does this all mean? It means the Spartans come to play when the calendar flips to March. Tom Izzo has a knack of lighting a fire under his teams when it comes tourney time and this year won't be any different. With a lot of young, talented players and a history of doing well in the postseason, Michigan State could be an imposing threat come March.