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Bracket Big Board: Michigan State, a crumbling basketball empire

Brad Evans
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The Bracket Big Board takes into consideration past returns, current performance and expected future gains in determining who should be included among the field of 68 (31 automatic and 37 at-large bids). Essentially, the Bracket Big Board is a cheat sheet designed for amateur bracketologists if they were filling out a Tourney Pick ‘Em '11 entry today. The Bracket Big Board is updated every Monday until the dance card is officially unveiled March 13.

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In 371 B.C., approximately 11,000 Spartan hoplites clashed with outmanned Thebans outside a small Boeotian village. Sparta, the supreme military power of its day, invaded the area, determined to reestablish its authority in a contested area of Central Greece. Instead of walking over opponent forces as it had done numerous times before, the supposedly invincible Spartan phalanx crumbled under the pressure of the Theban charge.

The decisive defeat at the Battle of Leuctra marked a turning point in Greek and early European history. Crippled by the loss, Spartan influence in the region declined dramatically. The once prominent superpower quickly faded into the background, giving rise to the Thebans and eventually the Macedonians under command of Phillip II, the father of Alexander the Great.

Centuries later, another group of allegedly unstoppable Spartans are winding a similar path to ruin.

Entering the 2010-2011 season, Michigan State had high expectations. Coming off its fifth Final Four appearance since 2000 and boasting a No. 2 national ranking, many prognosticators believed the standout program was not only a strong contender for the Big Ten, but also a national title. All the ingredients needed for a run to Houston were evident – experience, perimeter shooting, defense, Izzo’s trademark toughness. Thoughts of missing the NCAA Tournament were laughable.

Midway through the conference season, the opposite is true.

Over the past two weeks, Michigan State has taken on the appearance of General Custer’s 7th calvary. Dropping key confrontations to Illinois, Purdue and, humiliatingly, in-state rival Michigan, this is a team clearly on the ropes. Even against inferior competition at home, it has struggled mightily, indicative in OT victories over Northwestern and Indiana. With assist leader Korie Lucious, who was suspended January 26 for undisclosed reasons, out of the picture, the Spartans are in a seemingly irrecoverable tailspin, a situation Izzo described recently as “not very good.”

Naysayers and loyalists will continue to contend the legendary coach will find a cure. After all, this is a program notorious for flipping a switch in February, peaking at the most optimum time. Inconsistency in January is normal operating procedure. However, the Spartans are suffering from an unfamiliar sickness. No medicine man may be able to find a remedy. Shooting just 47.6 percent inside the arc (187th nationally), MSU has performed poorly around the basket. Instead of pounding the paint, it has relied too much on converting low-percentage jumpshots.

More problematic,mdefensive intensity, normally the Spartans' hallmark, has regressed. Blitzed from distance (296th in 3-PT% D), they’ve allowed an uncharacteristic 1.21 points per possession over their past four games. Failing to convert at the charity stripe (67.7 FT%) and coaxing few turnovers (211th in TO% D), this is a club that is also ill-equipped to win tight games. Simply put, there are too many gushing wounds and not enough tourniquets.

If the ship isn’t righted soon, one of the nation’s most consistent winners could be on the outside looking in come March. KenPom’s forecast over the remainder of the season looks bleak:

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With a strong SOS, above .500 conference record and three wins versus the RPI top 50, MSU would likely draw an 8-seed if the dance card was unveiled today. If it can resolve its problems and topple beatable foes, the Battle of Leuctra won’t be reenacted. However, another slip or two against an inferior opponent (e.g. at Iowa, vs. Penn St., at Michigan) and the Spartans, sadly, could miss the tourney for only the second time in the Izzo era and first time since 1997.

Here is the 2011 debut of the Triple-B:

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*For games played through Sunday, January 30
*RPI data provided by Rivals
*Efficiency stats from kenpom.com

On the Bubble: Colorado St. (15-6), Richmond (16-6), George Mason (17-5), New Mexico (15-7), Nebraska (15-5), Gonzaga (14-8), UAB (15-5), Kansas St. (14-8), Wichita St. (18-4), Northern Iowa (17-6), UTEP (17-5)

Dropped Out: None.

Conference Breakdown: AmericanEast (1), ACC (5), Atlantic Sun (1), Atlantic 10 (2), Big 12 (5), BigEast (10), Big Sky (1), Big South (1), Big Ten (7), Big West (1),Colonial (2), Conference USA (1), Horizon (2), Ivy (1), Metro (1),Mid-American (1), Mid-Eastern (1), Missouri Valley (1), Mountain West(3), Northeast (1), Ohio Valley (1), Pac-10 (4), Patriot (1), SEC (4),Southern (1), Southland (1), SWAC (1), Summit (1), Sun Belt (1), West Coast (1), WAC(1)

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Image couresty of US Presswire

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