February 26, 2012

MSU clinches share of B10, bigger goals ahead

Shortly after they defeated Nebraska on Saturday evening the Spartans began their prep for Tuesday's road game at Indiana.

The Spartans game against the Hoosiers was supposed to be the first hurdle in a daunting two-game stretch to close Big Ten play that would determine whether Michigan State captured a seventh regular season championship of Tom Izzo's storied career or whether the Spartans would finish behind either Ohio State or rival Michigan in the final conference standings.

Michigan's unexpected home loss against Purdue on Saturday coupled with Ohio State's shocking home loss to No. 15 Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon ensured that Michigan State would capture at least a share of the 2011-2012 Big Ten championship regardless of the outcome in a road game at Indiana (Feb. 28) and a home finale against Ohio State (March 4.) five days later.

With a share of the Big Ten championship already in hand, Michigan State needs one win in its final two games win to capture the league championship outright.

Izzo and his ballclub were in the middle of practice on Sunday afternoon when they first heard the news that Wisconsin had joined the Spartans as the only other team to defeat Ohio State at Value City this season.

"It's kind of weird when you are at a practice and you find out that you've at least shared part of a Big Ten Championship because we cherish those," said Izzo in a statement released Saturday evening. "And you're right, every year that is a goal of ours - now it's a goal no matter how good we are. I would admit that this year it wasn't the first goal because we thought getting better every day was needed to even have a chance at a Big Ten Championship. And then when we got where we're in the hunt, we reassessed our goals and started moving forward. Now that part of it is there, the ultimate goal of any basketball, football team is to win an outright Big Ten Championship. So I won't lie - we're excited and proud of what's been accomplished so far, but it's miniscule compared to what we have a chance to accomplish down the road.

"And we're going to keep working for our ultimate goals, which as we reassess, are now to win the Big Ten outright, to be playing our best basketball at the end of the year, to go into the Big Ten Tournament feeling good about ourselves, to try to get the highest seed we can get which will help us in the NCAA Tournament. So because of that I can't really talk much about this because it's just one small part that at the end of the year will become a major part no matter what ends up happening. But for right now it's just one more mile marker on our trip to the ultimate goal."

That ultimate goal according to fifth-year senior Draymond Green is a third national championship for the Michigan State basketball program.

"That's what everybody plays for," said Green following his team's win over Nebraska. "I think we have the team to do it. We just have to keep taking it one game at a time."

Green and fellow senior Austin Thornton have been part of countless victories over Top 25 opponents during their time in the Michigan State program. The two Michigan State seniors will leave the Spartan program with three Big Ten championships, four NCAA tournament appearances, and two Final Fours.

But that laundry list of accomplishments is not enough for Green, Thornton, or the Michigan State program which has higher expectations than any program in the Big Ten during the month of March during Tom Izzo's tenure as head coach.

"DayDay and Austin are even more important now," said Izzo, who became just the fifth coach in Big Ten history with seven or more Big Ten championships on his resume. "We knew going into this (upcoming week) that we could play awfully good and come back 0-2. That's just the way it is in the Big Ten as we've learned so vividly in the last couple of days. It' pretty exciting the opportunity we have and all I said is 'guys, let's keep our eyes on the prize.' The prize has been reassessed and re-evaluated and we've kind of upped it a little bit. And that's a good thing, that's not a bad thing. I am going to rely on Draymond and Austin, rely on my staff and I'm going to talk about this tonight and then I'm going to focus in on the job we have and probably not talk about it again until the banquet."

Izzo is now tied with legendary Purdue head coach Gene Keady with seven Big Ten titles.

Michigan State has won three of the past four Big Ten championships.

The Spartans are 24-5 overall and 13-3 in the Big Ten heading into the final two games.

Victories at Indiana and at home against Ohio State would give the Spartans a good chance at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

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