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Michigan State basketball: Upcoming 5-game stretch as critical as it gets

MSU needs to go at least 4-1 in this stretch.

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Michigan State basketball
© Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The next five Michigan State basketball games are the definition of critical as the Spartans are in need of a run.

Michigan State basketball is in a very precarious spot. It’s mid-January now and the Spartans are coming off another close loss, this time to Illinois 71-68. That sends the Spartans season record to 9-7 and 1-4 in Big Ten play.

These next five of games will be extremely critical for the rest of the season. The Spartans can kiss winning the Big Ten regular season title goodbye as well as a good seed in the NCAA Tournament. But as they sit today, that NCAA Tournament bid might be in jeopardy. That’s why these next five games are crucial as they work towards cementing their spot in the Big Dance.

Four games MSU should win

Thankfully for MSU, the next few games are a little easier than what it’s had recently. So much so that MSU will likely be favored in four of the next five games and the Spartans should win those four. I know saying “should win” is a scary thing in sports, but it’s the truth.

The Spartans’ next two games are at home against Rutgers and Minnesota. Michigan State will have a good chance of winning every game at home this season, mainly because almost nobody in the conference has been winning road games. But Rutgers and Minnesota are both not that great, sitting at 9-6 and 12-3, respectively. Minnesota’s record might jump out to you as being impressive, but their strength of schedule makes you second guess just how good they really are.

The other two games in this stretch MSU has a good chance at winning are a road game at Maryland on Jan. 21 and a home date with Michigan on the 30th. These are two of the worst teams in the Big Ten and teams MSU matches up well with on paper.

In my opinion, these four have to be wins. Losing any of these games hurts their NCAA Tournament resume not to the point of no hope, but pretty close. The Spartans are better than these teams, so it’s time they start playing like it.

Wisconsin

A road game in Madison is the fifth game sandwiched in this stretch. It falls on Jan. 26, between our games against Maryland and Michigan. Wisconsin is the only undefeated team left in the Big Ten and it already beat MSU once in East Lansing. This would be a massive win, but not one it necessarily needs.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s an important win when looking at NCAA Tournament seeding. But losing this game won’t keep MSU out of the tournament. I do think the Spartans stack up well against Wisconsin and have a good chance of winning with revenge on their minds, but this isn’t a must-win game like the others feel.

If the Spartans go 4-1 in this stretch, that takes their record to 13-8 (5-5). Not where they want to be, but infinitely better than where they currently are. This would also show us that the team has turned a corner and is beating the teams it should beat, unlike what happened against Nebraska and arguably Northwestern.

Unfortunately, this is what the season has become, but right now the focus just needs to be on making the NCAA Tournament. They can worry about winning the Big Ten Tournament and making a run in March later, let’s just ensure they actually get there first.

Lead writer for Spartan Shadows since April 2023, writing over 450 articles. Michigan State basketball, football and recruiting expert. Class of 2019 graduate from Michigan State University specializing in Sports Management. Daily MSU runs a popular X page (@daily_msu) covering all things MSU Sports.

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