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January 19, 2011

NIT? SMH

If you're feeling sluggish today, just think of that MSU team bus, pulling into Breslin around 4:45 a.m. after an icy trek home.

    If you're starting to develop a common late January/early February condition for college basketball fans I call "NIT anxiety," take heart. I don't think your team will be playing in that tournament. That's based on the numbers, the schedule ahead and the fact that the Spartans are figuring out a few things lately.

    Let's break it down. MSU is 12-6 with a top-10 strength of schedule and a top-20 RPI rating. There are 12 games left in the regular season. I believe a 7-5 finish will wrap up a bid for the Spartans -- although they'd be wise to follow that up with one win in the Big Ten Tournament, just in case. But a 7-5 finish means a 19-11 overall record -- and an 11-7 record in a good (not as great as everyone thought entering the season, but still good) league.

    An 11-7 record in the Big Ten, a win over Washington, strong SOS and RPI numbers and the name "Michigan State." That will do it. But can the Spartans do it?

    Saturday at Purdue. I like Purdue in this game. A lot. If MSU finds a way there, we can revisit Big Ten title talk (although everyone in the league needs Illinois to beat Ohio State that day as well). But I expect a loss, and I expect plenty of resulting ledge walking, hand wringing and name calling from (some) fans.

    Then MSU hosts Michigan and Indiana. I like the Spartans. A lot. Then a critical game at Iowa. MSU has to win that one, and if so it will be sitting at 7-3 with eight games to go.

    Four road games -- at Wisconsin, at Ohio State, at Minnesota, at Michigan. Four home games -- Penn State, Illinois, Purdue, Iowa. From what I'm seeing, I think this team can split those, maybe even get five of them. That'll deliver MSU's 14th straight NCAA bid. And in this year more than any I can recall, that tournament will be wide open. Nothing approaching a dominant team in college basketball.

    There, a little dose of sunshine to get you through a dreary Wednesday.

    ("SMH," by the way, is a textcronym I recently learned and have been itching to use. It stands for "shaking my head." Now I have to figure out a way to use my new favorite: ne14kfc. "Anyone for KFC?")

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Joe Rexrode
MSU Sports Reporter
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