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Basketball Roundup: Back in the Title Race

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The Spartans are back atop the Big Ten, and it all comes down to a battle with their rivals.

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Well it has been quite a roller coaster since last week’s roundup. A week ago we were still basking in the glow of the win in Ann Arbor, with the mid-week bye giving our nerves a rest until the weekend. Then things went south in Bloomington and Michigan State looked to be on the outside of the Big Ten title picture looking in.

Now just a few days later the Spartans are back on the winning track after easily dispatching Nebraska at home, and thanks to some help from Minnesota, are once again tied atop the Big Ten standings.

One win stands between MSU and a second straight Big Ten title, and that win must come against the Michigan Wolverines, in East Lansing, on senior night. The winner claims at least a share of the Big Ten title, and the number one seed in the Big Ten Tournament next week in Chicago.

The loser will watch their rival celebrate a conference championship, and will likely end up the three seed in the tournament, assuming Purdue takes care of business at Northwestern.

It doesn’t get much bigger than that.

A win and a Big Ten title would also be somewhat of a milestone for Tom Izzo. If the Spartans win it will be the ninth Big Ten title under Tom Izzo, which would move him into second place all-time behind Bobby Knight and Ward Lambert, who both have eleven. Izzo is currently tied with Walter Meanwell of Wisconsin with eight championships.

If you don’t recognize the names of Lambert and Meanwell it is probably because they did their work before World War II.

Oh, and here’s another bonus kicker. The winner of the game on Saturday will also take the all-time lead from the other in Big Ten titles. Michigan State and Michigan are currently tied with 14 championships all-time.

For Izzo, he also has a chance to win back-to-back Big Ten titles for the third time. He won four straight from 1998-2001, and back-to-back in 2009-10. Of the six previous teams to go back-to-back in the Big Ten, five of them made the Final Four.

Cassius Winston is the Big Ten Player of the Year

I know this isn’t something that is really a question when it comes to MSU fans, but I am going to go ahead and say that this race is over, and Cassius Winston will be the Big Ten Player of the Year. He has been a steady influence through a season that has seen three starters miss games and four regular rotation players miss time. Through it all, Winston has been there, and MSU has kept winning.

When you look at his performance in Big Ten play there isn’t much that needs to be said, the numbers are all there. He is one of the top scorers, and has the best assist rate in the conference. He is averaging 19.4 points and 7.9 assists per game in conference play, while shooting 46.8% from the floor.

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

His defense has also improved this year, as MSU continues to be one of the top ten defensive team in the country.

Carsen Edwards may get his stats by volume, but he is shooting less than 30% from three and less than 35% from the floor in conference play.

Ethan Happ is a great scorer and rebounder, but he’s shooting less than 38% from the FREE THROW LINE in conference play and has to be taken out of games at the end because of it.

Neither of those sound like players of the year to me.

Winston will become the ninth Spartan to win Big Ten Player of the Year, the most of any school in the conference. Other winners under Izzo include Denzel Valentine, Draymond Green, Kalin Lucas, Morris Peterson, and Mateen Cleaves.

As long as we are talking records, let’s check in on Cassius, who passed another milestone last night. Winston had his second straight double-digit assist game, dishing out 10 dimes in the win over Nebraska. He now has five straight games with at least eight assists.

During the game, Winston passed Scott Skiles for second all-time in Michigan State history. Winston now has 653 assists, trailing only Mateen Cleaves on the all-time list. It will take 164 more to become number one in MSU, and Big Ten history. Next up on the Big Ten list is Dee Brown from Illinois at 674.

Winston also passed Stan Washington for 29th on the MSU career scoring list.

Supporting Cast Career Night Carryover

After MSU lost at Indiana, there was plenty of blame to go around, mostly with the supporting cast. Now to be fair, the supporting cast for Winston looks completely different than it did at the start of the season, and even from a few weeks ago. But, they struggled down the stretch in Bloomington and they would be the first to tell you that.

The good news is that all the key players bounced back against Nebraska…and how! Kenny Goins, Matt McQuaid, and Aaron Henry all put up career highs against the Cornhuskers. It helped take a lot of the pressure off Winston to score and he was able to just facilitate for most of the night.

Michigan State will need more of that going forwards, especially against Michigan on Saturday. While Goins and McQuaid have been pretty steady lately, seeing Henry play well was really good to see. The freshman was 4-of-6 from the floor, and played without the uncertainty and hesitation he had shown recently on the offensive end. He also knocked down all four free throws, which is another area he had been struggling with.

I also wanted to note Thomas Kithier, who had another solid game chipping in six points on 3-of-4 shooting. Kithier has really had a knack for getting open near the basket and is ready to finish when the ball finds him. I suspect he will be in for some important minutes against Michigan.

Enjoy the Ride

Hey, it’s March and we are officially into survive and advance mode. From here on out every game is a one game playoff. Michigan State has a chance to hang banners in Breslin, starting on Saturday night, and with one game left in the regular season, there isn’t much more you could ask for.

Let’s try and enjoy the ride, because this team has given us a good one so far despite all the bumps in the road. I believe they have more to show us, and hopefully they will. Let’s strap in and get ready, for it is March, and it is not for the faint of heart.