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Is Michigan State Falling Apart?

Before the year began Kentucky and Michigan State were the two most popular picks to win the
Branden Dawson
national title. Now, Kentucky is 21-8 and barely sticking inside the Top 25 and the Spartans sit at 22-7 and 22nd in the nation. The Spartans' struggles have been extremely surprising for a team that is experienced and has the talent to be one of the best inside the nation. Is Michigan State just suffering through a rough stretch (4-6 in their last ten after their 18-1 start) or is this team not a contender any more?

Injuries have really hurt what looked like a very promising year for the Spartans, who had wins over Kentucky, Oklahoma, Texas and Ohio State in that 18-1 start. They lost senior big man Adreian Payne for a significant amount of time and have also seen injuries to forward Branden Dawson and senior point guard Keith Appling. In fact, nearly everybody on this Spartans' roster has seen some type of ailment it seems. But, they are starting to finally get healthy with Payne and Appling back and Dawson also working his way back. It seemed so easy to say that Michigan State was just injured and they would be very dangerous when healthy but they haven't. An offense that looked very scary when Payne and Appling were healthy and sophomore sharpshooter Gary Harris was on his game, has looked tamed lately. On Saturday the Spartans' offense had a serious low, managing just 46 points against a pretty weak Illinois team. Tom Izzo's team are known for being smart with the ball and making the right decisions. But, against Illinois they surrendered 16 turnovers, 5 by sophomore Denzel Valentine and they also shot an embarrassingly low 34 percent from the field and 5 for 23 from deep in a rough home loss to Nebraska.

It was been a rough year for Michigan State, swept by arch rival Michigan and losing to the Cornhuskers and Fighting Illini at home. But, they could change that with a strong end to the season and a run in March which is what Spartans' fans expected before the year began. The rough part is that they don't have much more time to gel before March Madness. A home meeting with dangerous Iowa and a difficult Ohio State team on the road will complete their regular season and the Big Ten tournament is brutal on teams that are not prepared. Injuries have been very tough because they have cost these players precious minutes that other players have had. When players don't have those minutes it can hurt their chemistry and can effect them in March. Plus, they haven't really had an opportunity to properly heal and get the rest they need. Once the Big Ten season begins it is a constant, brutal stretch and if you aren't healthy it so tough to get healthy.

It is tough to tell whether or not the Spartans are falling apart or they have just hit a rough stretch, which every team likely will see sometime throughout a year. The next two games will be very important in telling us exactly what this team will look like through the rest of the year. Iowa also has struggled lately and Ohio State has never been able to regain their form since starting Big Ten play. Michigan State has all the pieces in place to still make a run, no matter the seed they receive this tournament. They have size inside with Adreian Payne and Matt Costello and they have shooters with Travis Trice and Harris. They have more experience than most others in the nation and a coach who knows how to win in March. But, things are just not flowing on this Spartans team; they have really struggled from downtown and are making mistakes they weren't making when the year began. Maybe when they become completely healthy things will change but even then it is tough to make a quick change this late in the year.

It is well known that any player that has played four years under Tom Izzo has gone to at least one Final Four in their time in East Lansing. Early in the year this looked to be a real possibility but this rough stretch has raised questions. Adreian Payne and Keith Appling are the seniors on this team and they are yet to reach a Final Four which may provide some much needed motivation. But, unless they can find some more offensive punch and figure out their offense down the stretch that little streak could definitely be coming to an end.

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