Tom Izzo: 'We ain't dead yet'

No, Michigan State didn't follow in the Wildcats' footsteps. The similarities ended Tuesday night.

Still, for a team that has been this consistently mediocre, apathetic and disappointing, Tuesday night's hard-fought loss at No. 3 Ohio State counts as something of a victory. A moral victory? Maybe. But a victory all the same.

For the second straight game, Michigan State looked like the team most expected to see when the Spartans were gifted (whoops) with the No. 2 overall preseason ranking in the fall. After easily handling Penn State Thursday night, Michigan State came into Columbus, faced a team that probably should still be ranked No. 1 overall -- a team that features the best interior player in college hoops, and one of the best inside-out combo styles we've seen in years -- and played that team to a draw for about 38 minutes.

The game was never out of hand, Michigan State was never particularly inconsistent, and if you knew nothing about this team's ranking or its season to date, you'd assume the Spartans were trucking along nicely through their conference schedule, ready to make another patented Tom Izzo tournament run.

It isn't, of course. At least, it hasn't been. But it is hard to argue -- even a week removed from back-to-back drubbings at Iowa and Wisconsin -- that Michigan State hasn't at least begun to turn a corner.

How does Tom Izzo, he of the brutally honest news conferences, who two weeks ago found himself calling the Iowa loss "the worst performance of a team I've coached since I've been at Michigan State" feel about all this? He's feeling the optimism, too:

"I wouldn't count us dead yet," an emotional coach Tom 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." As he left the postgame interview room, he repeated, "We ain't dead yet."

It's tough not to agree.

There were plenty of encouraging signs for MSU Tuesday night. Kalin Lucas (14 points, five assists) looked like Kalin Lucas. Draymond Green (10 points, six rebounds, four assists, one steal) looked like Draymond Green. Even more importantly, Derrick Nix, Garrick Sherman, and Adreian Payne admirably filled in for injured forward Delvon Roe; not only was that trio efficient on offense, it managed to hold Ohio State freshman phenom Jared Sullinger to a mere 11 points on the night. There was all sorts of good stuff to be had here.

Naturally, there was also some bad. Durrell Summers (zero points in 16 minutes) looked disinterested, which is hard to fathom in a game this big. The Spartans couldn't get over the hump down the stretch. And, surprise surprise, Michigan State committed 19 turnovers. The turnover woes have improved this season, but that longstanding bugaboo did creep up at all the wrong times Tuesday.

Perhaps the time for moral victories is past. Michigan State is barely in the tournament right now, after all, and regardless of circumstance each loss makes MSU's already ugly record -- 14-11, 6-7 in the Big Ten -- look worse and worse. If this bunch doesn't want to be the first Spartans team to miss the NCAA tournament since 1997, it still has some serious work to do.

But after Tuesday night -- for the first time this season -- Michigan State looked up to the job. Moral victory or no, this was a victory.