Per KenPom, Michigan State has now played the most difficult schedule in the country:
- South Carolina has gone 11-5, beating Clemson, Vanderbilt, and Florida in the process.
- UConn has become a top-ten team behind Kemba Walker's heroics (although KenPom still has the them down at #24), with the team's only two losses coming on the road against good Big East competition (Pitt, ND).
- Washington's record stands at 13-4 and the team is ranked #20 in the polls. KenPom still has them up at #5 because they've blown out almost everyone they haven't lost to.
- Duke just finally lost a game, despite the absence of Kyrie Irving since the beginning of December (one game after the team played MSU).
- Syracuse also just finally lost a game--on the road, against a top-five opponent, without their leading scorer. After MSU lost to the Orangemen, I didn't think that loss would hold up that well; Syracuse didn't appear to have enough scorers. Turns out I was more than a little wrong about that one.
- Oakland played a brutal nonconference schedule, but they beat Tennessee right after playing MSU and are 7-0 in conference play.
- Texas is 14-3 and is ranked right around #10 in the country by both the human voters and KenPom.
- MSU's first six Big Ten games have included five KenPom top-50 teams plus a very competitive-looking Penn State squad.
Add it all up, and the Spartans have played five of the top ten teams in the country as determined by KenPom. That's the same number of games they've played against teams ranked outside KenPom's top 100 (including Chaminade, whose record stands at a somewhat disappointing 10-5).
All of this serves to say that MSU is not a bad basketball team. They're just not a dominant one. Despite the number of very strong opponents listed above, only two of MSU's six losses have been by double digits. They've gone toe-to-toe with the best the country has to offer; they've just come up short most of the time.
The flip side to that is that MSU hasn't blown out many opponents, either. All seven of the team's wins against KenPom top-100 teams have been by single digits. One might posit this is a sign of a team that competes hard but lacks the innate ability to impose its will on opponents.
To pick up on a theme that Rexrode hit on in his looking-on-the-bright-side post this morning, there does not appear to be a dominant national power out there this year on the order of Kansas last season or UNC the season before. Note that Ohio State has won its last 4 games--all against middle- to lower-division teams--by a combined 15 points. (I should say I have a strange feeling they'll turn it on before/when MSU visits Columbus, though.)
The positive take here is that MSU probably doesn't have to improve by as much as we think they do to revive some glimmer of hope for March. The negative take, unfortunately, is that there don't appear to be any simple solutions to gaining the offensive consistency that would be needed to make that improvement happen.