For Michigan State, they are looking squarely at a litmus test for their chances of advancing into the sweet sixteen or dare we say it, the elite eight of the NCAA tournament.
Sure the Spartans have faced tests throughout this season - and has failed them all. But now, the resurgent Spartan cagers have what is likely their most severe test prior to the NCAA tournament, a game on the road against the red-hot Michigan Wolverines.
Michigan stunned the #10 Wisconsin Badgers over the weekend, putting together their most complete game of the season in thoroughly whipping the Badgers 71-59 to run their record to 15-8 overall and 6-6 in the Big Ten. The win was Michigan's second of the season against a top ranked team, earlier UM whipped NC State. Now, the Wolverines are desperate for a win to keep their tournament chances alive.
Entering into Crisler Arena will be like stepping into the proverbial 'snake pit' for the Spartans who have not fared well on the road in fan crazy arenas. The Wolverines intend to employ a familiar attack plan against the Spartans.
"If we can establish our low post, maybe we can get some of their big guys in foul trouble," said freshman forward Brent Petway. "If we can get Paul Davis out of the game, then K.T. (Kelvin Torbert) may struggle a little bit. Davis is a great player, and their guys feed a lot off what he does. But it starts with our big men, and what we're able to do ourselves. It's definitely going to be crucial."
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo realizes that while the Spartans have won three straight, they really haven't had the kind of test they will face tonight.
"We're going to have to play better on Tuesday and from here on out if we're going to do what we want to do," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "And I'm getting a little tired of saying that because I think it falls on deaf ears."
Izzo is especially worried about the Spartans penchant for turnovers that hurt them early in the season and still plague Michigan State. "In spurts we're playing awfully well. But the turnovers that gave [Northwestern] three dunks in their first four baskets were mind-boggling. In fairness that's a tough team to play, and we got a little lethargic in the first half."
The Spartans will measure themselves, not only on their growth this season, but Izzo has challenged them to leave a legacy behind for future teams, despite their terrible early season start.
"[These guys were] brutally beaten the way December went. But every team that won a championship here has left a certain legacy. This team could leave the greatest legacy and teach the greatest lesson -- that you never give up."
This is it.