The futility of doubting Michigan State

Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine celebrates after a 74-65 win against Maryland on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Mich. (Kirthmon F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press/TNS)

By Dan Escalona

Tweet: With help from neon, lime green uniforms, Michigan State back on track

Maybe it was the neon green uniforms, but Michigan State was powered by a strange, new energy source Saturday against Maryland. Not only did the Spartans end their three-game losing streak, they kindly reminded the rest of the Big Ten that the road to March is still patrolled by Tom Izzo and Co. in a Mad Max-style war rig.

Prior to Saturday’s showdown against the Terrapins, the Spartans were one loss away from all but ending their Big Ten regular season title aspirations and further damaging their tournament seeding.

Michigan State has already fallen behind the magic eight ball with two losses against Iowa, as well as losses to Nebraska and Wisconsin — teams of definite inferior talent. The team got off to a rather puzzling and unimpressive 3-4 start to the conference schedule. All three of those wins came against Big Ten bottom feeders in Illinois, Penn State and Minnesota.

Part of what made the Spartan’s cold start to conference play so surprising was that it came on the heels of steamrolling nonconference competition toward a No.1 national ranking, which included wins over Kansas and Louisville.

Looking to the stats in order to come up with an answer why Michigan State struggled through early January is, in fact, a tough task.

The Spartans rank among the top of the conference in many of the important statistical categories. They rank in the top five in scoring offense and defense, field-goal percentage and field-goal percentage defense, three-point percentage and three-point defense. Michigan State also ranks second in rebound differential and top in assists.

Solid production in each of these categories is typically an indicator of only one or two losses and certainly not of three-game streaks.

So why, again, the Spartans get off to a pedestrian start in the first seven games of Big Ten play?

The answer to this question largely lies in turnover differential for Michigan State ranks last in the entire conference. In each of its losses, the team had more turnovers than their opponent.

Simply put, force Michigan State into turnovers and you’ll have a shot to effectively tranquilize the rest of its strengths.

It wasn’t until then-17-2 Maryland waltzed into the raucous, neon green clad Breslin Center that the Spartans shattered the glass ceiling keeping them from playing to the top potential in conference play.

Facing an opponent of equal talent may just have been the antidote to the Big Ten blues.

The Spartans not only won the turnover battle, they also played to their strengths and outrebounded the Terrapins by 10.

Perhaps the best development for Michigan State,and the scariest for the rest of the country — from Saturday’s game was the play of guard Bryn Forbes.

Though Forbes has posted a respectable scoring average of 13.6 points per game, he had a mightily struggled in his previous two home games scoring only five points.

Yet, versus Maryland, he brought a sledgehammer to those struggles, leading the team with 25 points.

If he continues some semblance of offensive consistency the trio of Forbes, Denzel Valentine and Matt Costello still give the Spartans the ability to beat any team in the country.

Before Saturday much of the narrative surrounding Michigan State was a pessimistic one, leaving some questioning the legitimacy of the team.

If you were one of these people, just remember that as long as Tom Izzo paces the sidelines, doubting the Spartans, be it in January or March, is the most futile of endeavors.

I may not be the biggest believer in superstition but, hey, you gotta wonder if Michigan State should keep rolling out those lime green unis.

The dreams of the entire Maryland team are most likely haunted by that color as we speak.

Dan is a senior in Media.

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