Michigan State’s run as the number one team in the land is likely over after losing convincingly to North Carolina in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge Wednesday night. The Spartans went down 79-65 in a game in which they were outrebounded, outhustled, and just generally beaten down by the enigmatic Tar Heels. While not an excuse, the Spartans’ three best players all suffered some sort of ailment in the contest, as Gary Harris tweaked his injured ankle, Keith Appling suffered a hip pointer from a nasty spill, and Adreian Payne had a muscle cramp that he couldn’t shake. But nobody else stepped up, as the team shot only 35.9 percent from the field, allowed the Tar Heels to score 1.09 points per possession, and were whipped on the defensive glass (UNC grabbed 39 percent of its offensive rebounding opportunities). None of this will happen to Tom Izzo’s team very often as the season plays out. To answer the titular question, though, the loss isn’t all that meaningful in that it was to a team that very well may spend a good portion of the season in the Top 25. But questions remain that Michigan State will have to answer if it is really to prove that it is a serious national title contender. Here are three in particular.
- Does Michigan State have the depth it needs to contend for a national title? This game would have been the perfect opportunity for someone like Branden Dawson, Travis Trice, or Denzel Valentine to take over, but it didn’t happen. Dawson was silent to the tune of scoring only two points and more importantly grabbing only three rebounds. Trice had five steals, but along with only two assists and four turnovers. Valentine shot 1-of-4 from the field and didn’t do anything else to make an impact. If your three best players are struggling with injuries or just off nights, someone else has to come through and none of these likely candidates stepped up. This team is built on the big three of Harris, Payne and Appling, a trio that might be the best group in terms of combined talent and experience of any team in the country, but the others will have to contribute more consistently if Sparty is to reach the final weekend of the season. Read the rest of this entry »