Tom Izzo probably didn't envision his ball club at 4-4 at this point in the season, and apparently neither did any analysts that projected the now unranked Spartans among the top five teams in the nation prior to the season.
Fortunately for Izzo and his young Spartans, the pressure is now off, the expectations have withered, and the team gathered some valuable lessons during those losses to Kansas, Duke, Oklahoma and Kentucky.
While that may seem incredibly optimistic, you don't have to look very far to find the bright spots in an otherwise disappointing season.
Outside of the lopsided beating at the hands of the Blue Devils, the Spartans hung tight in each loss. In each of those three losses, Michigan State has fallen by a total of 15 points. And, in each, the Spartans got themselves into a big hole early. They can correct that nasty habit and begin to earn more victories by getting a lead and maintaining it by avoiding turnovers and committing to Izzo's trademark tough defense, which hasn't been displayed in big games this season.
YOUTH AND EXPERIENCE
The Spartans are still an incredibly talented team, that hasn't changed. They are, however, very young and do not possess the mature make-up of the Mateen Cleaves' led Spartan squads. That maturity will grow as the Spartans progress through this season, and despite the losses, each one can be taken as a lesson learned and valuable experience. The youthful trio of Maurice Ager, Shannon Brown, and Paul Davis are witnessing the looks, quickness and talent that they'll face in March.
ARMED FOR MARCH
Assuming the Spartans are able to secure a tournament bid, which they will, the experience the team gained during the regular season -- especially in those contests against top flight teams -- will be invaluable. The team already played before the largest basketball audience ever, against the nation's current No. 1 team, and could have won. That atmosphere will dwarf what the Spartans' experience in the tournament up to the Final Four. The talent MSU has faced also won't be seen until the later rounds of the tournament.
While these Spartans may not be title contenders yet, their 4-4 mark certainly isn't a mirror of the team's abilities. Following Saturday's tough road test against UCLA, the schedule softens for the Spartans. If they're able to capitalize on their experiences thus far, and buy into what Izzo's selling, immediate team progress -- along with a higher ranking -- will be soon to follow.