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February 28, 2010

Road sweet road

Michigan State went to some extremes during its week between games. Draymond Green said the Spartans did the famous "War" rebounding drill for 20 straight minutes Tuesday. That's like 30 rounds of boxing.

    On Friday night, the players had a little sleep-over at Breslin. Hanging out, playing video games, not sure if S'Mores were involved in any way. Some guys slept on the recliners in the players lounge, some on the floor.
    "It probably did help a little, just to get everybody's mind right," said Durrell Summers, who doesn't expect his late right ankle sprain to keep him out of Thursday's game vs. Penn State.
    Whatever the Spartans did in the past week, it certainly helped their rebounding and defense. Was Robbie Hummel's absence a factor? A huge one, but E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson are good enough to torch MSU the way it had been playing defense. This was, as Tom Izzo said, "like a tournament win" because of the focus displayed by MSU's help defense -- and the way Raymar Morgan and Draymond Green led a 46-20 onslaught on the boards.
    Whatever the Spartans did in the past week, it certainly didn't solve their turnover issues. Kalin Lucas and Co. were dribbling the ball off various appendages, theirs and their opponents', and constantly driving too far and getting into trouble.
    But the Spartans kept defending, they won, and now they're in line to get a piece of this championship. Home against Penn State and Michigan. Nothing can go wrong, right?
    MSU might prefer to close on the road. The Spartans finish 7-2 in Big Ten road games this season after going 8-1 a year ago. That's 15-3 in two years, unmatched previously and not likely to be matched any time soon.
    “I don’t care what league you’re in, that’s an incredible amount of road wins and that’s got to say something more than I’m seeing in our team at times," Izzo said. "It’s got to be a little more toughness than I give them credit for. And it’s hard to win on the road so we have to figure out how to translate that into some more home wins.”
    The three contenders played a total of five games against each other. The road team won all five games. Purdue and OSU at MSU. OSU and MSU at Purdue. And Purdue at OSU. Perhaps that bodes well for all three as they look toward the postseason.
    Perhaps not. I have thought for a while that the Big Ten has three legit Final Four possibilities this season, the most since ... a long time. In 2000, MSU and Wisconsin made it and Purdue lost to Wisconsin in a regional final, but no one thought the Badgers were a Final Four team. Even after they made it there.
    But after today, I think the Big Ten only has two teams capable of making a run like that. (And Ohio State and MSU will have to improve a lot in a short time to have a good chance). Purdue, without Hummel, just isn't good enough anymore. It's a hard reality to face for the team that clearly had the best chance at Indy just four days ago.
    For the Spartans, today's victory might mean a pair of No. 3 seeds. MSU would get the No. 3 in the BTT in a three-way tie at the top, because it went 1-2 vs. the other two teams. OSU would be the top seed at 2-1, with Purdue at 2-2 and No. 2. That sets up a possible Purdue-MSU semifinal in Indy.
    It also means MSU is back in play for a No. 3 seed in the big tournament, and that's big. You want to avoid No. 1 seeds such as Kentucky, Kansas and Syracuse for as long as possible, which is why there is a major difference between a 3 and a 4. Also, the better the seeding, the better chance MSU has of starting at a nearby destination such as Milwaukee or Buffalo.
    This team likes the road, but really, who wants to go to Providence or Oklahoma City? Not me.

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Joe Rexrode
MSU Sports Reporter
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