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Spartans showing signs, but are they too late?

Michigan State looked much closer to the Spartan team we expected to see all season long than the one that showed up for the first three months of the season.

The problem?

Its too late for moral victories for the Spartans. The 71-61 loss to the Buckeyes drops them to 14-11 overall and 6-7 in the Big Ten. They need victories if they want to avoid going from back to back Final Fours to the NIT.

That said, for the second straight game, this team showed some signs of life. While Kalin Lucas and Draymond Green both had mediocre games by their standards, it was the performance of Tom Izzo’s role players that was truly promising. With Durrell Summers in foul trouble (and with his head out of the game) and Delvon Roe battling a knee injury, Tim Izzo was forced to go deeper into his bench, and they produced. Mike Kebler scored eight points while Austin Thornton and Keith Appling both made some big plays.

But it was the play of the three bigs -- Garrick Sherman, Derrick Nix, and Adreian Payne -- that truly impressed. Those three combined for 23 points on 10-13 shooting from the field and held Jared Sullinger to 11 points on just eight field goals attempted and got him into foul trouble.

“I wouldn’t count us dead yet,” Izzo said. “This is a pretty good team if we can regroup down the stretch and get three guys to play together instead of just two.”

They certainly aren’t dead. The Spartans came a couple of turnovers (they had 19 on the night) away from taking Tuesday’s game down to the final possession. The bubble is wide open this year, the Big Ten is a mess after the top three teams, and Michigan State has the talent to win out during the regular season and make a run through the Big Ten Tournament.

Its a huge “if”, I know, but if the Spartans are, in fact, able to finish strong and salvage what’s left of the season, then there is going to be some six or seven seed that is unhappy about drawing the Spartans in the first round.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.