This season has been quite the roller coaster.
On Sunday, the Spartans topped the Ohio State Buckeyes 80-69, winning their third straight Big Ten Championship. After the hardships the Spartans faced throughout this season, coming back and winning the title just at the right moment is a fitting end to the Spartans’ regular season. So, let’s take a look at how the Spartans made it to this point.
The Spartans entered the season with tons of hype around them. Their star, Cassius Winston, was coming off an All-American season. Their roster was loaded with talent, and, after reaching the Final Four last season, the Spartans were hungry to establish their dominance early this season.
But, shortly before the start of the season, it was announced that Spartan star Joshua Langford would be sidelined until January (and eventually the entire season). It was a big blow to the Spartans just before the season began.
The first game, the Spartans fell to the Kentucky Wildcats 69-62 in the Champions Classic. It was a hard-fought game, but ultimately the Wildcats closed it out.
The following game, the Spartans showed their dominance, routing Binghamton 100-47. It was a big bounce back from the previous game and showed that the Spartans weren’t going anywhere before their big road trip to Seton Hall, where they topped the Pirates 76-73.
During the Maui Invitational, the Spartans fell to Virginia Tech 71-66, before topping Georgia and UCLA to close out the weekend in Hawaii, as well as the first month of the season.
The first opponent of December was a much anticipated one. The Duke Blue Devils rolled into East Lansing seeking revenge from their Elite Eight loss to the Spartans from the previous March. In the end, Duke beat the Spartans comfortably, 87-75.
Then, the Spartans opened Big Ten play at home vs. Rutgers. The Spartans, as they did frequently this season, bounced back from their previous loss and beat the Scarlet Knights 77-65. It would be their first of 14 conference wins.
After winning their next game against Oakland, the Spartans had another conference opponent. This time, it was a road trip to Evanston, Illinois to take on Northwestern. The Spartans cruised out to a big lead, before a late surge by Northwestern put the pressure on. They ultimately won 77-72, making them the only team in the Big Ten with two conference wins at that point.
After winning their final two games of December, the Spartans were back at home to take on Illinois. The Spartans fought hard the whole game and won 76-56 to climb to 11-3 overall and 3-0 in the Big Ten.
Their first game back from Winter Break, the Spartans hosted Michigan. The Wolverines were without Isaiah Livers, and it was Juwan Howard’s first matchup with the Spartans as a head coach. The Spartans led from beginning to end and topped their rival Wolverines 87-69. It would be their fourth straight in the rivalry.
The Spartans won the following game vs. Minnesota 74-58, giving them a 5-0 record in the conference. Tom Izzo warned fans not to get too comfortable with their start, as the conference is a tough one, and it wasn’t going to last.
And he was right. The following game, the Spartans gout routed by Purdue in Mackey Arena, 71-42. It would be the lowest the Spartans would score the rest of the regular season. But, as they do, the Spartans bounced back.
The Spartans took down Wisconsin 67-55 in East Lansing. In the game, Cassius Winston’s three assists sent him over Mateen Cleaves all-time assist record, making Winston the all-time leader with over a month left in the season.
The Spartans would go on to win two of their next three games, losing a close one at Indiana.
February was not as kind to the Spartans.
Their first game was a road trip to Madison to take on Wisconsin. The Spartans continued their struggles on the road, ultimately losing 64-63, despite a late scoring surge. With three conference losses, it started to look more and more like the Spartans weren’t going to run away with the title.
The Spartans dropped their next two games, one at home to Penn State, and the other on the road to Michigan. It left Spartan Fans everywhere wondering what happened to the preseason No. 1 team.
The Spartans then rolled into Champaign to take on Illinois, trying to avoid their largest losing streak in years, and to get their footing back to make a run at the title. In an exciting game, the Spartans closed with a monster slam by Xavier Tillman Sr. and a late turnover by Illinois on the last possession to win 70-69. It was their first road win since beating Minnesota on January 26.
Next, the Spartans had a big matchup at home. College Gameday had rolled into East Lansing for their game against Maryland, and the Spartans rolled out new uniforms celebrating the 20th anniversary of the 2000 National Championship team. With many members of the team in attendance, the Spartans held a seven-point lead with roughly three minutes to go, before Maryland surged to take the lead, ultimately topping the Spartans 67-60. With that, the Spartans title hopes relied on many different scenarios occurring, and many had called the season, hoping for a miracle run in March.
But just when you count them out, the Spartans prove you wrong. The Spartans closed the month of February with three more wins, including a 12-point win at Maryland.
After topping the Terrapins, the Spartans controlled their own destiny. They rolled into Penn State, and after falling behind big in the first half, completed a 15-point comeback, led by Cassius Winston and Rocket Watts.
Then, Sunday, the Spartans surged past Ohio State for a big win on Senior Day and have now won three straight regular season titles. The Spartans are getting hot at just the right time, with both the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament just around the corner.
For what it’s worth, the 2000 National Title Team won three straight titles,too.