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Michigan State basketball vs. Kansas State: This one hurts

This one may take a while to get over.

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Michigan State basketball
© Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Thursday’s Michigan State basketball loss to Kansas State is going to take a minute to shake off. For now, it hurts.

Last night featured an epic game. It’s a game this program usually wins in March. The Michigan State basketball program more often than not is the one that makes the plays down the stretch to advance.

There are many examples throughout the Tom Izzo era. The 2000 regional games vs. Syracuse and Iowa State in which we made every play in the last few minutes to break open tight games. The 2005 regional games against Duke and Kentucky were both classics in which we made the plays late to win. The Korie Luscious buzzer-beater vs. Maryland and the win vs. Duke in 2019 to make the Final Four all come to mind immediately and these games span 20 years of the Izzo era. They all featured MSU making the plays down the stretch necessary to win iconic tournament games.

This game unfortunately featured a lot of ‘what ifs’ that doomed the Spartans.

What if Tyson Walker doesn’t have an uncharacteristic wild miss in the last minute of overtime? What if Joey Hauser doesn’t have an even more uncharacteristic miss on the front end of a 1-and-1 late? What if Malik Hall decides to grab the ball instead of letting it go out of bounds with 17 seconds left in overtime? What if either Hauser or Hall pulls the trigger on the last possession? What if Markquis Nowell doesn’t make the circus shot bank shot 3-pointer with time running out on the shot clock right after returning from his injury? What if Massoud misses just the 3-pointer from the logo in what was a career game for him?

There are so many more singular what ifs. If any one of these plays goes differently, MSU either outright wins or has a chance to win or tie at the end of overtime. This game was so close that any single play easily tips it in the opposite direction and we are celebrating another triumph instead of sitting stewing in agony today.

There have certainly been frustrating losses for Michigan State basketball in the tournament. Losing a late lead to UCLA in 2021, having Duke close out on a run in the last two minutes of our loss in 2022 and not being able to match up with Texas Tech in 2019 are the most recent. The shocking upset to a red-hot shooting MTSU, not being able to hit anything in a head-shaking loss to Syracuse, and running into an NBA-lite team in UNC in the 2009 NCAA title game certainly bring up plenty of what ifs. Losing the 2020 NCAA Tournament to COVID-19 when MSU was clicking on all cylinders at the right time certainly brings up a completely different what if.

In the aforementioned games in which we were outplayed, usually by better squads and we didn’t have a great shot of winning, so the what if and the pain of last night feels greater than those losses.

The two games that come to mind that truly match the pain of this loss are the Final Four game against Butler in 2010 and the Elite Eight loss to UConn in 2014. Both MSU teams were excellent and certainly had a realistic shot to win it all. Both teams lost in a tough fashion very late when the other team made plays and we couldn’t match, just like last night at the end. Granted 2010 also featured a solid helping of controversy when no foul was called on Draymond Green’s shot at the end when the replay clearly showed there was a foul. Both those teams had very good shots of winning the NCAA title.

This team at least had a pretty realistic shot of making the Final Four, which would’ve been a really nice accomplishment for a squad with a lot of ups and downs and plenty of adversity that was seemingly gelling at the right time. These three losses in the Izzo era feel like they just match.

The future for MSU does seem bright with a top-three recruiting class joining a team that returns plenty of contributors and may return nearly all, except Hauser, if both Hall and Walker decide to run it back one more time.

This loss will sting for a while, but hopefully bigger things are on the near horizon for Michigan State basketball.

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