The Michigan State Spartans look like theyre re-peaking.
Coach Tom Izzo, Mr. March, had his surprising, overachieving team peak last month with seven straight victories.
But when they dropped their last two regular-season games and failed to clinch the outright Big Ten title, it appeared that possibly wed seen the best from the Spartans.
Or maybe not.
Michigan State, despite losing starting guard Branden Dawson to a knee injury, has regrouped quickly and impressively to make a rare run in its conference tournament.
Overcoming an early 11-point deficit, the Spartans completed a three-game season sweep of No. 4 seed Wisconsin with a 65-52 victory in a Big Ten semifinal Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Michigan State, the No. 1 seed after finishing in a three-way tie for first place, advances to Sundays championship game against either No. 2 seed Michigan or No.3 seed Ohio State.
Izzo has his team a little ahead of schedule compared to normal. His NCAA tournament success has been phenomenal -- a 35-13 record (.729), six Final Four appearances and one national championship.
But the Spartans havent fared as well in the Big Ten tournament. They havent won it since 2000, their national-championship season. In fact, they had gone 9-11 over the last 11 years, getting eliminated in their first game four times.
Some have wondered whether Izzo doesnt put as much emphasis on the conference tournament because the NCAA tournament is coming up a week later. Its difficult for most teams to find the mental and physical toughness to advance far in both.
Izzo has heard the talk and felt compelled recently to defend his approach.
A lot has been written and said about how I coach the Big Ten tournament, Izzo said. I coach it like I coach every game. Every game is important to me. Every single game. I put everything I can put into it.
From the first day in Maui (his first game as head coach in 1995) 'til today, Ive worked every day to win every game I can win.
The question going into this tournament was whether the Spartans could bounce back after a heartbreaking loss Sunday in the regular-season finale to Ohio State. That kept Michigan State from finishing on top alone.
As it turned out, the Spartans (26-7) have used that disappointment as motivation now. Izzo said last Sunday they were going to try to win back their title, and thats what theyre doing.
Draymond Green admitted the Big Ten tournament failures have been a little unusual considering the NCAA success.
Im not sure, Green said when asked for an explanation during a post-game news conference. Sometimes thats the way the cards are dealt. Youre sometimes not successful at some things.
A lot of people always say coach Izzo takes off the Big Ten tournament to get ready for the NCAA Tournament. Thats such a myth.
One thing we talked about with this group is really focusing in because its something that hasnt been done here in a long time, Green said of winning this tourney. When you talk about leaving a footprint in the sand, its just another way to get it done.
For Izzo, theres definitely some satisfaction in breaking through after all those early exits.
Weve been so long without playing in this championship game, Im just looking forward to it, he said on his post-game radio show.
Saturdays victory also took care of another area of discontent for Izzo. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan had been his nemesis, beating him in their first six meetings and 11 of the first 14.
Thats all turned around in recent years. Izzo has now gotten the best of Ryan in three straight and six of the last eight. Ryan still leads 13-9 overall.
After Wisconsin (24-9) took a 20-9 lead in the first 10 minutes, the game turned when fifth-year senior Austin Thornton, who has been battling severe migraine headaches recently, hit three straight three-pointers. Thornton is a co-captain for the Spartans with Green.
Im glad that somebody finally noticed what Austin does, Green said. Hes so underrated, its pathetic.
When I started off struggling very bad, he got us back in the game. From then on, we were all able to pick it up.
A lot of our wins have been based around our bigs (big men) this year. But I think youve got to give this win to the guards. They really carried this team today.
Thornton was considerably more animated than normal, leading Izzo to say during the press conference, I think he was a little possessed.
Those triples by Thornton provided the first nine of 13 straight points by Michigan State. The Spartans ended up scoring 26 of the last 31 points before halftime.
What was so surprising is that Green, the Big Ten Player of the Year, scored only two points in the first half.
The production came mostly from three role players, including Thornton. Reserve center Derrick Nix and guard Brandon Wood, who is starting in Dawsons place, each scored nine points in the half. Neither even averages nine points.
Thats what makes this team as special as we are, Thornton said at the press conference. Thats what a team is supposed to do.
Michigan State made 10 straight shots during an 11-minute surge. Wisconsin, meanwhile, was held without a basket for nearly 12 minutes, a stretch that carried into the second half.
The Badgers finally got a shot to fall and ended up trimming the Spartans 19-point lead to six with more than 12 minutes remaining.
MSU responded to the challenge with 11 straight points to put the game away.
The Spartans shot 50 percent (21-for-42) against a strong defensive team that leads the nation in points allowed at 52.5 per game.
Green came around to record his 19th double-double of the season, with 14 points and 16 rebounds, along with five assists.
Point guard Keith Appling added 13 points and five assists. Thornton had 12 points on 4-for-4 three-point shooting.
Wisconsin was led by point guard Jordan Taylors 19 points. Rob Wilson, who played the game of his life Friday when he scored 30 against Indiana, was held to six points.
For the first time in 12 years, the Spartans will be playing on Selection Sunday for the conference championship.
Theyve won their first two games in Indianapolis by a combined total of 30 points, putting them back in the conversation for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
It looks like Izzo might be up to his old tricks again in March. This time, he just got things started a week early.