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Jeff Eisenberg

That thud you heard was Michigan State hitting rock bottom

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Here's the opening line to Wednesday night's pregame post on The Only Colors, an excellent blog covering Michigan State sports.

Well, things have go to go better tonight than they did during the last Spartan-Hawkeye contest we witnessed in Iowa City, right?

Sorry to kick you guys when you're down, but no.

In Michigan State's 37-6 football loss at Iowa on Oct. 30, the Spartans trailed 30-0 at halftime and saw their undefeated season end in ignominy. Amazingly enough, that game was far less humbling than the basketball team's stunning 72-52 loss to the woeful Hawkeyes.

If last week's loss to rival Michigan felt like rock bottom for Michigan State, then the Spartans managed to drill a little deeper. This was an Iowa team that had only one Big Ten victory entering Wednesday night and had lost to the likes of South Dakota State, Iowa State and Wake Forest in non-conference play.

The sad truth for Michigan State is that a team expected to contend for the national title at the start of the season now will have to scramble just to make the NCAA tournament at all. The Spartans have dropped four of five to fall to 5-5 in the Big Ten with a brutal six-game gauntlet featuring games against Wisconsin, Penn State, Ohio State, Illinois, Minnesota and Purdue up next.

Michigan State's major problem up until the past few weeks had been an inefficient offense lacking any semblance of outside shooting.

Four of 18 3-point shooting against a packed-in Iowa defense suggests that was still an issue on Wednesday for the Spartans. Even more disconcerting, however, is that the previously excellent Michigan State defense has started to erode the past few games.

The Hawkeyes shot 57.7 percent for the game, building a 28-8 lead and never letting the Spartans any closer than 15 in the second half. It was the largest margin of victory for Iowa this season besides a 111-50 shellacking of lightly regarded SIU Edwardsville.

There was a point earlier this season when many wondered whether Michigan State could flip the switch and play like a Final Four contender later this season, but that's no longer the question folks are asking about the Spartans.

In the wake of losses to Michigan and Iowa sandwiched around an overtime home win over Indiana, the more relevant question now is whether Michigan State makes the NCAA tourney at all.

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