24. Michigan State (9-5)
Considered by many a preseason Top 5 team, Michigan State started awful, with poor shooting and a loss to James Madison. The struggles continued throughout nonconference slate, including tough losses against Wisconsin and Nebraska in early December. The Spartans are still a very talented squad with a lot of potential ahead and have been playing significantly better in recent weeks, including a blowout win over Baylor.
They ran their current winning streak to five games as Big Ten play got started for real this week. The Spartans welcomed Penn State to town and sent them packing in a 92-61 win. Malik Hall had 24 points, Tyson Walker had 22 points, and the Spartans looked like that top-level program we expected before the season, getting their first Big Ten win of the season.
We cannot ignore the abhorrent play that Michigan State had early this season, but we also can’t ignore the talent and potential for Tom Izzo’s squad. They always seem to play better basketball near the end of the season and have seemed to find their groove in recent weeks. This five-loss team can still be a national power, but next week will tell us a lot, with road tests at Northwestern and Illinois.