Things had started to look ugly for the Michigan State Spartans. The basketball team had lost three games in a row and five of the last eight games. For the first time since Cassius Winston’s freshman year.
This had all happened just as the Spartans hit the road to play arguably their most difficult road game of the season, at Illinois.
With that all in play, it is easy to understand why Spartans fans appeared to have lost confidence in this year’s team. Not only had SB Nation FanPulse confidence fallen to a season-low 38 percent, it had dropped more than 50 percent in just two weeks.
Then MSU went ahead and beat the Illini.
Sure, in the process they blew a 20-point second half lead and needed an amazing play by Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman in the final seconds, but they won.
It’s hard to overstate just how important the win was for the Spartans. They avoided the program’s first four-game losing streak in more than a decade and earned arguably their best win of the season.
Tuesday night’s first half may have been the best half of the season for Tom Izzo’s team. There was production throughout the roster and, unlike during the previous struggles, the Spartans were hitting shots early in the game. More impressively, MSU was absolutely dominant on defense. They shut down Illini stars Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn and frustrated Giorgi Bezhanishvili to the point of no return.
The second half was undoubtedly a different story. Illinois punched back in a major way, and the Spartans started to look like that team that couldn’t finish against Penn State and Wisconsin. But down one, with the ball, the Spartans stars regained control.
ICYMI: Cassius Winston played that final possession with his shoe in his hand. pic.twitter.com/ZemvLf9lCT— Michigan St. on BTN (@MichiganStOnBTN) February 12, 2020
The work in regaining fan confidence isn’t done yet. A loss on Saturday to the first place Maryland Terrapins would likely tamper too much of a bounce.
But at home with a win behind them, the Spartans have a chance to make things right in just one week. Beating Maryland would undoubtedly put the Spartans back in the top 25 and just a half-game out of first place.
There are signs for real hope amongst the fanbase. Likely because of extremely high expectations, MSU fans seem to be more down on the team than fans around the Big Ten.
According to FanPulse voters, MSU is the second-most likely team to win the conference, albeit a distant second. But again, a win Saturday at home could drastically change views around the conference.
The biggest games of the regular season are still ahead for MSU. While nothing comes easy in this conference, a win at home over Maryland would set up nicely as the team hits the road to play bottom-feeder Nebraska Cornhuskers (Hoiberg vs. Hoiberg action) before returning home to play an Iowa team that is struggling mightily of late, especially on the road.
While there are reasons to be confident, the Spartans absolutely must take advantage of the next few games. With road games against Maryland and Penn State still to come, drastic swings are still a potential for this year’s roller-coaster team.
If you aren’t yet signed up for the weekly FanPulse voting, you should be!