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Sparty doesn't look Final 4-ish

I hate to be too hard on the Michigan State Spartans, considering they still are tied atop the Big Ten and usually overachieve come NCAA Tournament time (just look at last year), but Coach Tom Izzo’s team doesn’t look very well-equipped to make a deep run this season and definitely doesn’t appear to be the best team in the Big Ten.

Sparty dropped its third game in a row Tuesday night, 76-64 at home to Purdue. That snapped MSU’s 18-game home winning streak and was its worst home loss in four years. It was Purdue’s first win there since 1998.

In fairness, Michigan State star point guard Kalin Lucas clearly wasn’t 100 percent in his return from missing a game with a sprained ankle. So one could argue that this three-game skid (first of that length since the 2006-07 season) isn’t truly reflective of the Spartans because Lucas wasn’t healthy for all 40 minutes of any of them – however, MSU was getting spanked at Wisconsin last week when he went down.

Michigan State still remains an excellent 14th in the RPI ratings entering play Wednesday, but that’s mainly because Izzo scheduled a monster non-conference slate for MSU. But really, who has this team beaten? The Spartans lost at North Carolina, and that’s not looking very good now. They lost a neutral-site game to Florida and at Texas (also not looking so great right now) and then last week at Wisconsin. With Tuesday’s loss to Purdue, Sparty is 1-4 against ranked teams this year (1-4 ATS) – the lone win coming over the Badgers in East Lansing. MSU also beat Gonzaga early in the year, but the Zags weren’t ranked then.

The problem is that Michigan State is too reliant on Lucas, whose clutch shots have saved the team numerous times, including games at Minnesota and at Michigan that State probably should have lost. Guard Durrell Summers can be terrific at times for MSU, but he can just as easily score two points as he did against Purdue on Wednesday; Izzo didn’t let him off the bench in the second half. Forward Raymar Morgan is Mr. Inconsistent: He had six points against the Boilers and has a total of 22 points in the past four games compared to 67 in the four before that (all wins). Big man Draymond Green is one of the best sixth men in the country at times, like when he had 17 points and 16 rebounds in Saturday’s loss to Illinois. But he was 1-for-13 for six points last night.

The Spartans pride themselves on defense and rebounding. Well, they are still among the nation’s leaders in grabbing boards, but their defense has been lacking. During their 9-0 Big Ten start, MSU allowed an opponent more than 64 points twice. In the three-game skid, they are allowing an average of 73.7. Purdue shot a whopping 65 percent in the first half.

Again, it’s hard to pile on the Spartans too much because eight days ago they were unbeaten in the Big Ten and looking like a potential No. 1 seed in the Big Dance. And MSU should win at a minimum four of its final six games (two with Penn State, one at Indiana, one vs. Michigan, but potential losses at Purdue and vs. Ohio State). In addition, Lucas should get closer to 100 percent as each day passes.

But the Spartans need to figure out who they are, and quickly, or one of those patented Izzo Final Four runs will have to wait until 2011.

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