EAST LANSING – Michigan State basketball has been through it all this year: postponements, cancelations, injuries, brutal 30-point losses to Rutgers and Iowa, and back-to-back top-5 victories.
Now, MSU is searching for the program's 23rd consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance in the final week of the regular season.
Tom Izzo has downplayed the streak, telling his team records are meant to be broken, but it also remains the elephant in the room, even if Michigan State's focus is elsewhere.
"Realize that this is the reality of it, but at the same time understand that we have to go out there and focus on what we can control," fifth-year senior Joshua Langford said. "A lot of times and you're thinking of what's on the line or at stake, it kind of hinders you as a player; it's almost like paralysis by analysis.
"We just have to go out there and control what we can control and let the chips fall where they may."
Following a 73-55 loss to Maryland, MSU enters the week 13-10 overall and 7-10 in league play.
Michigan State was on the bubble before Sunday's loss, listed in or out of the field depending on the projections.
The Spartans end the season with a home game against Indiana and two chances to upset the Wolverines. How many games MSU needs to win and how far they must go in the Big Ten Tournament is debatable.
There are loads of moving parts; other teams are fighting on the bubble as well, but besting IU for a second time feels significant given that MSU can't rely on sweeping Michigan or even defeating them once (it's possible, just not likely).
"We don't have to win every game," said Izzo. "We've got to win some games."
The best-case scenario is a 2-1 finish, leaving Michigan State 15-10 with three victories over three top-5 teams (top-10 in NET rankings). I'm guessing that finish, plus one or two wins in the BTT, would be more than enough to receive an invite.
Of course, there are multiple possibilities and potential outcomes. MSU could finish 1-2 and instead need a decent run in the conference tourney, or an unlikely occurrence (in my opinion), the Spartans lose out and essentially need to win another BTT to have a chance.
However, it starts with winning Tuesday vs. Indiana, which requires a bounce-back performance after fatigue set in over the weekend. MSU came out flat against Maryland, the offense stalled, and jumpers almost always fell short. The Spartans looked like a team operating on little to no rest.
"I wouldn't have minded if as the game went on, we dragged down, but when the game started, we dragged down," Izzo said. "We got down 11-0 ... that was the way the game stayed."
Considering Michigan State played its fourth game in nine days, the performance wasn't surprising, but the Spartans aren't using it as an excuse.
They know what they have to do; it's about executing. And it starts tomorrow.
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