Print and Go Back ESPN.com: College Basketball Nation [Print without images]

Saturday, January 23, 2010
Spartans prove mettle in Minnesota

By Eamonn Brennan

Think Tom Izzo's happy?

Michigan State
Michigan State's Draymond Green (23) and Jon Crandell celebrate their 65-64 win over Minnesota.
Down 13 in the second half and facing a Minnesota team that had seemed to figure them out, Michigan State came back, stole a late lead, and managed to keep Minnesota from tipping in a last-second bucket -- the Gophers had three separate chances above the rim in one of those lingering late possessions that, like a scene from "Hoosiers," never seem to end -- to take a 65-64 win in Minneapolis.

This was a vintage Michigan State win and, at the risk of overusing the concept of "momentum," the kind of game that could change the trajectory of MSU's entire season. This was the sort of win that justifies the Izzo's peerless reputation. This is the sort of win that proves this Spartans team is just as legit as their preseason hype anticipated.

Of course, this was not a perfect win, nor was it a particularly impressive performance. Enthusiasm must be tempered. Michigan State didn't dominate by any stretch; for a while, they barely competed. The Gophers were the superior team for most of the afternoon, and held the lead from the opening tip to 1:27 mark in the second half. Minnesota forced Michigan State out of the paint and onto the perimeter, and the Spartans finished the first half with a mere four points in the lane. (Minnesota, meanwhile, had 18.) Lawrence Westbrook and Devoe Joseph both finished with 16, and both led a balanced, coherent Gophers attack, one that fully took advantage of Michigan State's horrid first-half shooting.

But in a conference -- a sport, really -- where road wins are few and far between, Michigan State managed to play poorly for 30 minutes and still found a way to win down the stretch. There's a handy arc here. Tom Izzo's teams are always talented, are almost always led by great guards (in this case, Kalin Lucas, who had 22 points and the key 3 to take that first lead), almost always struggle early thanks to a tough non-conference schedule, and always manage to figure things out in time to own the Big Ten and roll through the NCAA tourney with experience and mettle on their side.

That's why Tom Izzo is Tom Izzo. That's why Michigan State is Michigan State. The Spartans win these games. Why should this year be any different?

(Update: Another look at Minnesota's last possession shows a good bit of contact on Lawrence Westbrook's shot. Tubby Smith and company definitely have a gripe there. They also deserve a lot of credit for playing as well as they did; Michigan State's ascendency was never guaranteed. Tough loss, but the Gophers can build on this.)