4. Michigan State Spartans - 15-9 (7-6)
Ever since the back-to-back losses to Illinois and Northwestern, the Spartans had been teetering on being on the bubble and putting its 20+ year streak of NCAA Tournament appearances on the line. They had handled business since then, with the exception of losing on the road to Minnesota, 59-56.
Losing to an improved Minnesota team on its own isn’t shameful but the feeling is that it’s been one step forward, one step back for the Spartans program. With the veterans in the lineup, it’s been a surprise that they’ve been closer to the middle than the top of the league, before a potential breakthrough may have occurred.
After that was a home game against Illinois, the best opportunity (outside of a tough road game at Purdue) for Michigan State to get a signature victory. And that’s what they managed to do, pulling off an 88-80 win over Illinois. AJ Hoggard went for 23 points and five assists, while Malik Hall had 22, while Tyson Walker went for 19 points.
Barring a shocking late-season collapse, Michigan State is set for yet another trip to the NCAA Tournament. Now, it comes down to what kind of seed they’ll get. They have two road games up next, taking on Penn State and Michigan. A sweep this week would set them up well for a possible double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament.