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Fifth-ranked Spartans want outright Big Ten title

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(Eds: Updates with quotes, details for new approach. With AP Photos.)

By LARRY LAGE

AP Sports Writer

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan State clinched its seventh Big Ten title under Tom Izzo during practice when Wisconsin won at Ohio State.

Izzo said a "little bit" of him wished the Buckeyes won Sunday so that his players would have to beat Indiana to secure their share of the conference championship.

"I don't want anybody saying we've backed into anything," Izzo said. "This team has earned every single thing they've gotten all year."

Michigan State (24-5, 13-3 Big Ten) moved up a spot Monday to No. 5 in The Associated Press' college basketball poll with a seven-game winning streak that has given a team that was unranked in the preseason a two-game lead over No. 10 Ohio State and No. 13 Michigan with two games left in the regular season.

If the Spartans - a 3-point favorite Tuesday night on the road against the 18th-ranked Hoosiers (22-7, 9-7) - don't come away from Assembly Hall with a victory, they'll have another chance to win an outright championship against Ohio State on Sunday when seniors Draymond Green and Austin Thornton play their last home game.

"I'd love to be able to step out of here on Senior Day with three Big Ten championships, not a lot of guys can say that," Thornton said. "And we're going to have a chance to make another run at the Final Four. That would be three in four years."

If the Spartans win at least one of their next two games, or Ohio State and Michigan each lose another game, Green and Thornton would become the first players in program history to win two outright Big Ten titles.

"We're playing for a lot more than just sharing a Big Ten title," Green said.

Green's goals include earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament that starts in two weeks and leading the Spartans to a national championship to follow in the footsteps of Magic Johnson in 1979 and Mateen Cleaves in 2000.

He might have a shot if the Spartans can keep up their pace on defense and the boards.

Michigan State is allowing teams to shoot just over 37 percent, a record low in Izzo's 17 seasons at the helm. The Spartans are outrebounding opponents by 9.6 per game, their best margin since 2001 when they won a fourth straight Big Ten title and advanced to a third straight Final Four.

No one, including people within the proud program, saw this coming.

Just two players - Green and point guard Keith Appling - averaged double digits in minutes last year. Questions outnumbered answers, leading to the team being picked to finish third in the Big Ten.

"A lot of people would say, `People disrespected us and not be real about the situation,"' Green said. "I'm going to be real. We weren't sure, either. We knew we had pieces that we could possibly put it together, but nobody knew how it was going to come together."

When Izzo got his players together after Sunday's practice to inform them that Ohio State had lost, the hard-driving coach had a 4-minute meeting with them. He wanted to sound excited about winning a piece of the Big Ten regular-season title, but had no interest in being the first of many in town and on social networks to gush too much about it to the players.

"I get paid to make sure people understand you have bigger goals," Izzo said. "Whenever you accomplish one, there should be another one. I get paid to never be satisfied and I let the players know that. I tell them, `Those of you that are trying to please me, it ain't going to happen. If you think I'm going to be off your butt until you leave here, you came to the wrong place."'

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Follow Larry Lage on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/larrylage

Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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