CBSSports.com Senior Writer

No end in sight to Michigan State's astounding descent

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Michigan State lost by 20 late Wednesday to an Iowa team that ...

A) opened the season with a loss to South Dakota State. B) lost eight of its first nine league games. C) is still in the Big Ten cellar.

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So, yeah, that was a bad loss.

What's worse is that another loss almost certainly is coming Sunday.

"We are reeling," acknowledged MSU coach Tom Izzo, and good luck trying to turn it around at Wisconsin. Truth is, the Spartans probably would lose at the Kohl Center even if they were still ranked second in the AP poll like they were in the preseason. So a team that's 5-5 in the conference and coming off a 72-52 loss to Iowa is practically guaranteed a loss, at which point Michigan State will have a losing record in the Big Ten.

How the hell did this happen?

Five schools ranked in the top 15 of the preseason AP poll are currently unranked, including preseason No. 3 Kansas State and preseason No. 12 Gonzaga, neither of which is even getting votes at this point. So there are disappointments on lots of different campuses, but nothing approaches the ongoing collapse at Michigan State because, let's be honest, you just don't expect this from an Izzo-coached team.

The Spartans have gone from promising to questionable to bad to worse in a span of three months. They've gone from No. 2 to playing like a piece of No. 2, and that's not supposed to happen anywhere -- especially not in East Lansing, where Izzo has coached 15 seasons and never had a losing Big Ten record despite an assortment of obstacles on a nearly annual basis. One way or another, Izzo always figures it out. The guy lost his starting point guard in the second round of the NCAA tournament and still made the Final Four last year, which is among the reasons I've given the Spartans the benefit of the doubt to date. I don't care if it's a broken Blu-ray player or dysfunctional basketball team, my assumption has always been that Izzo can and will fix it.

The Spartans have lost four of five, prompting this from answer-man Izzo: 'I'm just confused.' (US Presswire)  
The Spartans have lost four of five, prompting this from answer-man Izzo: 'I'm just confused.' (US Presswire)  
But this doesn't look like it's getting fixed, does it?

The Spartans have dropped four of their past five.

They haven't won a single game in regulation in more than a month.

Up next is that road game at No. 19 Wisconsin (Sunday) followed by a home game against Penn State (Feb. 10) followed by a road game at No. 1 Ohio State (Feb. 15), meaning Michigan State likely will be 14-11 (6-7 in the Big Ten) going into a Feb. 19 game against Illinois. A statistical analysis at KenPom.com now projects the Spartans to finish the regular season 16-14 overall and 8-10 in the Big Ten; that's the stuff of NIT teams. So it appears Izzo is on track to record his first losing league mark and miss the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1997.

"I'm just confused," Izzo said, and I can appreciate the honesty and his admission that this isn't going to be as simple as getting in the gym and working really hard over the next 48 hours.

Yes, the Spartans lost Chris Allen in the preseason and Korie Lucious last week, but the problems at Michigan State run way deeper and are much less tangible. This team has leadership issues and mental hurdles more than physical limitations, and the unraveling really should be a lesson for fans of Kansas State, Gonzaga, Memphis, Baylor and all other teams that are losing games their rosters suggest they shouldn't lose.

Michigan State was once ranked as high as No. 2 but now the Spartans are coming off a blowout loss at Iowa and "reeling," according to their coach who has acknowledged he's "confused." In other words, even the basketball genius that is Tom Izzo doesn't know how to fix his mess of a team because sometimes things that should work on paper just don't work on the court.

Such is the case at Michigan State this season.

The Spartans are 5-5 in the Big Ten and staring at 5-6.

They're undeniably and deeply broken, and perhaps irreparably so.


Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.
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