Michigan State’s recent defeat to upset-machine Indiana notwithstanding, the Spartans have shocked a lot of people with how productive and generally strong they’ve been in 2012. Despite losing a couple of key veteran pieces and being giving zero to no shot at being competitive this year, Michigan State has ridden likely Big Ten Player of the Year Draymond Green’s leadership and talent, and Tom Izzo consistent poise all the way to a share of the conference title.
You don’t get a National Championship for that, though.
No, despite the fact that a team in the Spartans was able to rattle off 15 wins in a row at one point early in the year — after losing its first two games, no less — and outperform just about everyone’s expectations en route to a guaranteed slot at the Big Dance, everyone knows that the real work still lays ahead. Especially Izzo, Michigan State’s indubitable head coach who has won three conference titles in the last three years and seven all time. National titles won in that timespan? Zero. National Championships won since taking over as head coach in 1995? One.
Everyone knows that come year’s end, Michigan State’s unique and unexpected rise over the course of the regular season will be irrelevant. Only one thing matters in sports, college or pro – championships.
The Spartans have risen to unforeseen prominence this year the same way most of Izzo’s teams do – by playing good defense and rebounding the ball well. On the year, the squad is averaging just shy of 39 rebounds per game, a figure good enough for first place in the Big Ten and 21st in the country. On the defensive end, Michigan State is limiting opposing teams’ production to just under 38 percent, good enough for second in the Big Ten and third in the nation.
Offensively the Spartans draw comparisons to their biggest star – they’re not flashy but they get the job done. For the year, the squad is averaging almost 72 points per game, good enough for fourth in the Big Ten. Similarly, Green’s 16.1 points on 41 percent shooting and 10 rebounds per game don’t jump off the page anymore than, say, Jared Sullinger’s do, but the impact and value of those numbers is incomparable.
Michigan State doesn’t feel like a National Championship contender, and that’s probably why the team only has 10/1 odds to win the NCAA Tournament this year. But nobody envisioned the Spartans having the type of success that they’ve had up to this point either. If this team plays to maximum capacity come March Madness – watch out.