It's put up or shut up for the Michigan State men's basketball team.
On Saturday, the Spartans will host rival Michigan, who will enter the Breslin Center with a commanding 10-3 record (1-1 Big Ten) and looking for state bragging rights.
This goes beyond the typical yearly battle, however. The game is quite possibly one of the more important contests in the career of Spartans' head coach Tom Izzo.
Wolverines' head coach Tommy Amacker has turned a once mundane, fruitless Michigan program into a respectable conference foe that is now garnering national attention. The Wolverines continue to recruit well, and the progress isn't expected to stop anytime soon.
The Spartans, meanwhile, are headed into a different direction. Michigan State has slid to 6-7 overall (1-1 Big Ten) thanks to a brutal non-conference schedule, and have not shown any signs of Izzo-style basketball, especially defensively. Furthermore, the transfer of freshman Brandon Cotton may not call into question the stability of the program, but it certainly draws questions.
Despite their win against Penn State on Wednesday, Izzo and Co. have a long ways to go before they reach any semblance of past Spartans' teams. And a loss to both a conference and in-state rival would rightfully call into question whether or not Michigan has surpassed Michigan State on both a national and local scale. Local, perhaps, being the most damaging.
It's likely that Izzo has spent many long, exhaustive hours searching for an answer, in addition to lecturing his players. Earlier in the week, Izzo even had many of his former players, including Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson, speak with members of the basketball team.
Izzo's attempts to correct the issue won't be realized until the team plays differently. The passion, hustle, and heart that past Izzo team's displayed regularly has yet materialized, yet after last year's performance in March, it seems the core of this Spartans' squad has it at their disposal. It's just a matter of finding it.
The future of Michigan State basketball doesn't necessarily hang in the balance on Saturday, but anything short of a victory would promote the Wolverines as the premier college basketball team in the state. And after spending the last decade building past Michigan, that isn't acceptable for Izzo and company.