The fact that Michigan State started out the basketball season ranked No. 2 in the polls and now is barely in the Top 25 doesn't bother me at all. Preseason polls are often way off, and the Spartans have had a ton of injuries this season.
What discourages me is how poorly the Spartans have played in recent weeks after playing fairly well earlier in the season despite missing key starters who were injured. In their most recent 10 games, the Spartans are 4-6.
A 64-60 nonconference loss to mediocre Georgetown on Feb. 1 was the first total flop that raised red flags about what kind of heart and focus this squad has. Two weeks later, MSU laid an egg at home in a 60-51 loss to Nebraska, a good but not great team.
But the most disheartening and depressing MSU loss I have witnessed in many years came this past Saturday when a weak Illinois team visited the Breslin Center and beat the Spartans, 53-46. MSU played poor defense and looked utterly disorganized and uninspired on offense. It was one of the most anemic, pathetic offensive displays I have ever witnessed, from any team.
Making matters worse, while MSU has stumbled in recent days, archrival Michigan has been on fire. Tuesday night, the Wolverines crushed Illinois on the road, 84-53, shooting an incredible 69.6 percent behind the arc while connecting on 16 of 23 3-pointers. Despite losing two players to the NBA draft last spring and playing without All-American Mitch McGary, who had back surgery, the Wolverines have won their first outright Big Ten title since 1986. Hurts me to say this, but kudos to the maize-n-blue.
After Michigan swept MSU in the regular season, I kept thinking it would be nice to have a rematch with them in the Big Ten Tournament -- a chance for revenge. Now I am not so sure I want that rematch, as MSU would be in danger of losing for a third time to their bitter rivals.
Despite MSU's struggles and inconsistency, the Las Vegas oddsmakers (no dummies, them) give the Spartans better odds of winning the national championship (12-1) than they give the Wolverines (22-1).
Tonight's opponent, Iowa, is a solid team. I suspect Coach Tom Izzo will have his players ready to perform well after an intense week of practice. Heading into tonight's tilt and the final weekend of conference play, I am hoping the adage holds true for MSU: "You're never as bad as you look on your worst day."