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Michigan State basketball is alive and well again

Michigan State is back.

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Michigan State basketball
© Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

After what felt like a two-year hiatus from being relevant, Michigan State basketball is alive and well again.

It’s the thought that had been in the back of everyone’s mind for the past year and a half.  The question that needed to be asked, that nobody wanted to answer honestly. Had the Michigan State basketball program started to regress? Was this the beginning of the end for the greatest coach this school has ever seen?

Beyond the records, it was the results that were troubling. It was who the Spartans were losing to and how they were losing. The traits that allowed this program to surge in the past 25 years were beginning to fade. The conference that Michigan State has been the big boy in for two decades was chewing them up and spitting them out. For so much of this 2022-23 season, it became almost impossible to see it any other way.

But in a little over 48 hours this past weekend, all of those thoughts were put on hold.

This group of Michigan State Spartans found themselves this weekend in Columbus. Their victories on Friday and Sunday were vintage Michigan State NCAA Tournament basketball. The Spartans were tougher, hungrier, and more focused in both games.

They got out to fast starts in both games – outscoring USC and Marquette 37-21 in the first 10 minutes. In both games, they also saw those leads evaporate. And in both games, they kept their heads, executed in the biggest spots, and finished stronger than they started. In the last 10 minutes of both games, Michigan State outscored their opponents 45-31.

Winning in March is no accident. Sure, maybe you can shoot your way past someone or get lucky with a dreadful night from your opponent. But winning in this tournament is not given – it’s earned. MSU earned both of these victories the old-fashioned, hard way.

The Spartans hit a total of seven 3-pointers across two games this weekend. The best 3-point shooting team in the B1G was -33 this weekend in 3-point shooting margin.

But in true MSU postseason fashion, it didn’t matter.

These Spartans got back to the roots of the program. Defense. Rebounding. Running. Three characteristics that these Spartans haven’t excelled in all season became strengths this weekend.

Michigan State held USC and Marquette to 0.90 and 0.92 points per possession, while also winning the battle on the boards in both games. But beyond the numbers, MSU played with an intensity that we hadn’t seen before. Tom Izzo is getting all the love for his emphatic fist pump in the final minutes of Sunday’s win. But I’ve always felt that Izzo’s energy is a direct representation of the energy his team has. His emotions told me that the emotions of this team were just as intense – if not even more so.

People talk a lot about culture. It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot. It’s difficult to define. It means something different to everyone. Michigan State basketball’s program culture was on full display on Sunday.

Year after year in this tournament, Michigan State’s upperclassmen show up when their number is called. Culture is Tyson Walker finishing through contact after struggling with it early in his MSU career. Culture is Malik Hall grabbing the biggest offensive rebound of the season after battling through injuries and offensive struggles. Culture is Mady Sissoko sticking with it all to give a relentless defensive and rebounding effort to block two shots late. Culture is seeing how much it meant to Izzo to see this group advance.

Some might call it poetic. Some might call it lucky. But winning in this tournament is no accident. It’s a representation of what you’re made of. It’s as much about believing in yourself, and each other as it is about being better than your opponent. Michigan State, under Izzo, has figured out how to do this better than anyone. How else do you explain the 16 wins as the lower-seeded team? How else do you explain a 24-8 record in the back half of an NCAA tournament weekend? It’s Izzo’s culture and his unwavering belief in his own guys.

From here – we’ll see where things go. Who knows, maybe the fun is just getting started. For now, though, this weekend was a reminder to everyone that Michigan State basketball is still alive and doing just fine… once again.

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