Steps taken, MSU still a work in progress

Big Ten Tournament showed strides, but the Spartans are still working to get back to form from earlier in the season -- but the stakes are higher now.

Michigan State had the same goal coming into the season it did heading to Indianapolis: Win the Big Ten Tournament.

But that is not where things end with this team.

"We just made some giant steps," coach Tom Izzo said. "There's still so many inconsistencies when you look at the film. Our substitution pattern has to get better. We have to get more out of our bigs.

"To be a championship-level team, we still have a lot of work to do."

After going 5-7 from late January until entering the Big Ten Tournament, the Spartans started putting things back together in three straight games to win the title.

Playing three games and using that time to develop chemistry and rhythm with all the pieces returned was part of the accomplishment, but Izzo listed three important ways the Spartans got better. Michigan State cut down on turnovers, improved on defense and got some of their swagger back.

"I'd say in those three areas we hit a home run," he said. "Now the goal will be, can we consistently do them and keep building on it and getting better because we're still a work in progress."

Now, it is a matter of progressing game by game in the NCAA Tournament, starting with its first game against Delaware at 4:40 p.m. Thursday.

But with it being a one-and-done scenario, it remains possible time will run out on the Spartans.

"I never questioned where this team could be," Izzo said. "I questioned whether we'd run out of time and we still may. …

"I'm trying to compare us to where we were at the beginning of the year and where I thought we'd be now. We're still a long ways from where I thought we'd be now if I look at the beginning of the year."

With three wins in a row under their belt for the first time since January, though, the Spartans finally have found a little momentum.

"It's big to see us have our confidence and our rhythm back," forward Branden Dawson said. "Now, the world can see how good we can be with our pieces back."

Sophomore Matt Costello was a little more direct, stating it twice: "We're back" – even in the midst of figuring things out on the court game by game.

"Everybody's healthy and everybody's jelling," Costello said. "We are playing hard. I don't know if you all see it, we are still fighting out there trying to figure it out. You know how coach talked about the start of the season this is the closest team he's had, we can fight and figure it out."

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