The second half of the season has been about the Spartans quest to figure out a definitive answer to this question: Hunter or Hunted?
Minnesota was the aggressor in the Big Ten quarterfinal nightcap Friday, a five-point overtime loss by the Spartans that casts significant doubt on whether the team will be a top-four seed. Minnesota needed a win, and might need one more, to punch a ticket to the tournament. And the Gophers played Friday night like a team with something to play for, a level of intensity Michigan State didn't appear to expect.
The Spartans will learn their postseason fate Sunday. But they need to, in the next six days, continue to seek an answer to the question they haven't been able to formulate a response to since point guard Kalin Lucas' injury.
Hunter or Hunted?
MINNESOTA 72, MICHIGAN STATE 67 (Overtime): Michigan State erased a 10-point deficit in the final eight minutes of regulation to make overtime, but two 3-point bombs from Devoe Joseph in overtime brought Minnesota back from an early 3-point deficit in the extra session.
Raymar Morgan had 23 points and Kalin Lucas 18 for the Spartans, but they combined to miss four straight free throws in overtime. Michigan State was a dismal 18 of 34 on the night. The Spartans played without Chris Allen, who was suspended by Tom Izzo for "not being a good teammate."NOTES, QUOTES
--Tom Izzo would not say if suspended G Chris Allen will be playing in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Izzo suspended Allen for the first Big Ten Tournament game for what he said was an "accumulation of issues." Izzo sat with Allen at the end of the bench late in the game to remind him that he had let down MSU's seniors.
--Junior G Durrell Summers was benched for most of the second half Friday. It was the second time this season that Tom Izzo has benched Summers for a second half, and this time he said it was because of Summers' poor defense.
--With Chris Allen suspended and Durrell Summers benched, walk-on G Mike Kebler played extensive minutes off the bench. He logged a career-high 20 minutes, playing good defense on Minnesota's guards. It hurt the Spartans' offense though, as Kebler took no shots, missed both of his foul shots and turned the ball over three times.
POSTSEASON OUTLOOK: Michigan State's loss in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals makes it a long shot that the Spartans will get the No. 3 seed they covet in the NCAA Tournament. That would have meant no No. 1 seed in the regional semifinals. That's probably exactly what MSU will get now, as a No. 4 or No. 5 seed. The early defeat also makes it less likely that the Spartans will play close to home. They had hoped to be placed in Milwaukee or Buffalo. The big question entering the tournament is whether talented guards Chris Allen and Durrell Summers will play and play well -- after both were key in last season's run to the NCAA title game.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It'll probably go down as the rewarding-est of the six championships, just because of all the things we battled through this year. Every year has its own group of issues and good things and bad things, but this year, we just kind of kept punching forward and I give my assistants a lot of credit for that. There's a couple guys there that probably deserve head jobs. And I give my team credit." -- MSU coach Tom IzzoSTRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: The Spartans' 9-0 start in league play was the best in school history. They then lost four of six games to fall into second place for the first time. They recovered to win their last three and get a piece of the championship. The Spartans started 4-0 in Big Ten road games, giving them a program-best stretch of 12 wins in 13 Big Ten road games. Five of Michigan State's losses came against good competition away from home -- at North Carolina and Texas, vs. Florida in Atlantic City, then at Wisconsin and Illinois. The sixth and seventh losses came at home to the Big Ten's best, Purdue and Ohio State.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- G Kalin Lucas, G Chris Allen, G Durrell Summers, F Raymar Morgan, C Derrick Nix. Key Subs -- F Draymond Green, F Delvon Roe, G Korie Lucious, C Garrick Sherman
MSU 53, Purdue 44
MSU 67, Penn State 65
MSU 64, Michigan 48
Minnesota 72, MSU 67 (OT) (Big Ten tournament quarterfinals)
Awaiting NCAA Tournament bid.
--Junior G Kalin Lucas missed some practice time before Sunday's Michigan game with a foot infection. The ailment shouldn't cost Lucas any more time, but he was laboring at times Sunday.
-- Junior G Chris Allen's defense was superb Sunday against Michigan star Manny Harris, who made just 1 of 10 shots and scored a season-low four points. But on the other end, Allen took no shots and went scoreless. Tom Izzo praised Allen's defense and said the coaching staff needs to get him more shots. He has seven points in his past three games after scoring 56 in the previous five.
-- Freshman C Derrick Nix appears to have cemented a starting spot in place of Delvon Roe. Michigan State likes going to Nix early, and he is responding with powerful moves to the basket. The surprise Sunday was that he was able to stay with Michigan star F DeShawn Sims on a few possessions. Nix ended up with four points in 10 minutes.
Previous Report: 03/11/2010