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Michigan State basketball: What happened to the Spartans of old?

Pre-2020 Michigan State was special.

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Michigan State basketball
© Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State basketball has been average, at best, for the past four years. What happened to the Spartans of old?

Heading into Tuesday’s game against Minnesota, did you think this Michigan State basketball team finally turned a corner? I know I did. They were winners of five of their last six and had the most momentum they’ve had all season. That momentum came to a quick halt, however, after MSU lost to the Gophers 59-56.

This loss, at least for me personally, resurfaced a lot of bad feelings from the last few seasons. The last four years have been the worst stretch in history under Tom Izzo. Average regular seasons, limping into the NCAA tournament and not finding much success has become the norm in East Lansing.

And it got me thinking, what has happened to the Michigan State basketball program of old?

Losing to teams we shouldn’t lose to

Now don’t get me wrong, upsets happen every year. Even the best teams in MSU’s history have lost to teams they shouldn’t. But the last few years has seen the Spartans lose to way too many teams that they typically wouldn’t lose to. I’m talking about teams like Northwestern, Nebraska, James Madison, and Minnesota. Even getting swept by Wisconsin isn’t the norm for this program.

Like I said, losing to one or two of these teams in one season isn’t a cause for concern, but the increase in the amount of losses in games that Michigan State typically should win has been ramping up the last few years.

Rebounding and hustle

These are two pillars that the Michigan State basketball program has always been built on. Teams change year to year, but every team was always dominant on the glass and always out-worked their opponent. That hasn’t been true recently, especially this year.

The Spartans currently are the No. 187 team in the country in rebounding margin. Teams of old would’ve always been in the top 20, instead barely hanging in the top 200 is where MSU finds itself.

The Spartans’ opponents also routinely out-work MSU. Their opponents look like they want it more and too many guys on Michigan State is, for lack of a better word, soft. Where are the players that hold the rest of the team accountable? Where are the guys that aren’t afraid to get in each others faces when things aren’t going well? Why isn’t Izzo getting after his team this year like he usually does?

So many things that we have come used to in years past are just nonexistent now.

Lack of championships

I don’t expect to win a championship every season. I also don’t expect to be competing for one every year either. But Michigan State basketball is going on four years now of not even competing for a Big Ten title.

In years past, there have been MSU teams that weren’t close to winning the Big Ten. But what’s always happened in the following years? They’ve gotten right back to the top of the Big Ten, or at least close to the top. The same can’t be said over the last four years.

Michigan State once again will not be competing for the Big Ten championship. Frankly, they weren’t even close to this year. The Spartans started Big Ten play 0-2 and then fell to 1-4. I don’t care how good your team ends up becoming, you don’t stand a chance winning the conference after that start.

All I want is for the old Michigan State basketball to return. This doesn’t mean winning a lot of titles and making Final Fours, those things are hard to do and shouldn’t be the expectation each season. But I want the old MSU that played their hardest each game. The old MSU that never looked satisfied or complacent no matter how many wins they had. I want the old MSU that got after it with each other each day, and sometimes butt heads in the process.

Who knows when Michigan State will get back to that, but something needs to change and fast.

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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