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Michigan State Basketball's Turning Points: The Rise and Fall and Rise Again

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Or, reflections on points of inflection during the roller-coaster ride of MSU"s 2013-2014 season.

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KJ wrote yesterday about how Michigan State's 2013-2014 basketball season followed a third-order polynomial trend: that is, the Spartans were up, then they were down, and now they're up again. What he didn't discuss were three key point that defined those portions of the season. That's what I'm here for.

POINT THE 1st: MSU wins their Champions Classic game against #1 Kentucky. HUGE, HUGE CAVEAT: that number one ranking for the Wildcats, it turned out was a very, very good sized mistake. At the time though, Big Blue appeared fearsome, but the Spartans were up 10-0 to start the game, and everything on Earth was fantastic. The lead was as great as 15 when Julius Randle started to bully the Spartans in the paint, and that 15 point lead was eroded into a two point advantage with less than a minute left. With MSU playing for the last shot, Denzel Valentine went for the lay-up...and missed. Luckily Branden Dawson was there for the tip-in. Game, Spartans.

In the concourse immediately after, Kentucky fans were magnanimous. One Spartan fan said to her friend, "You're getting a victory beer! You better drink that!". Yes, indeed. While probably not the best win basketball-wise during MSU's opening stretch, it felt the best emotionally.

POINT THE 2nd: The spiral begins in earnest as MSU loses to Georgetown in Madison Square Garden. Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson were both injured, which meant Alex Gauna had to start. With that amount of depth one would expect the Spartans to be at a significant disadvantage inside on defense, which they were: the Hoyas rebounded about 47% of their misses. The Spartans offense was dysfunctional, as MSU turned it over on almost one quarter of their possessions.  I remember watching this game feeling frustrated about the present and desperately wishing everyone would get healthy soon. Even when that happened, the result in part was a loss to Illinois. February 2014 was not good to Michigan State, you guys.

POINT THE 3rd: The Spartans blitz the Badgers in the first half of the Big Ten Tournament to get their mojo back. Yes, MSU did look good against Northwestern, and although Northwestern were a good defensive team at points this season, they still went 1-7 in their last eight games leading up to the Big Ten Tourney. Contrasting with the Wildcats, the Badgers looked unbeatable at points in the second half of the Big Ten schedule after looking very mortal during the first half.

And once again the Badgers would look very impotent during a first half, as MSU buried Wisconsin in an avalanche of offensive efficiency. The Spartans made 50% of their threes in their first half and 72% of their twos. On the other end of the court, the Spartan defense was the strongest it had been in months against a quality opponent. The Badgers only made 4 of their 15 twos in the first half, and the Green and White ended the first half on top 43-26. While Wisconsin came back in a big way in the second half to make the final score 83-75, that first half showed why so many thought the Spartans would contend for the 2014 NCAA Championship - tenacious defense and offensive efficiency gained not just from NBA first-round talent, but the cohesion that comes with experience.

So what were some of your turning points (good and bad) during the season? Post about them in the comments.