Kalin Lucas, the 2008-09 Big Ten Player of the Year, is not just the leader and point guard of the prominent Michigan State basketball team, but also their best player. So when he went down with an ankle injury in the 2nd half of Tuesday night's loss to Wisconsin, Tom Izzo found it difficult to replace Lucas' court presence and productivity. After Lucas left the game with just under 11 minutes to play, the Spartans shot 2-for-15 from the floor (0-for-7 from behind the arc) with four turnovers.
Lucas leapt to take a jump shot and he landed on the foot of Wisconsin forward Keaton Nankivil. He immediately crumbled to the court clutching his ankle. He spent several minutes with trainers on the floor and was eventually carried to the locker room and left the arena on crutches.
The loss to Wisconsin was just the Spartans first conference loss, who at 9-1, hold a two-game advantage over the Badgers in 2nd place. Looking forward, the Spartans are just 6-4 on the road this season (including neutral court games) and travel to Illinois Saturday to take on the Fighting Illini, who are currently tied in third place, just 2 ½ games back of Michigan State. If Tuesday night's final ten minutes are any indication how the Spartans will play without Kalin Lucas, Fighting Illini would be quite content to pick up another Big Ten win.
Losing Lucas hurts, but the Sparatans may have lost themselves a chance to obtain a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with Tuesday night's 18-point loss to Wisconsin. Deserving teams like Kansas, Villanova, Syracuse, Kentucky, West Virginia and Georgetown (most likely two of these four Big East schools + Kansas and Kentucky) will take advantage of Michigan State's loss and propel themselves into the #1-seed conversation.
Over the team's final eight Big Ten games, Michigan State plays Purdue twice and takes on the surging Ohio State Buckeyes at home. The 2nd place Wisconsin Badgers had a front-loaded schedule and the toughest team remaining is Illinois twice, and then Indiana (3-5 in conference play) and Iowa (2-7). It could be a race to the finish for the league title. Whoever stays hot could be one to watch for.