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Should we be concerned about Michigan State?

Mar 4, 2013, 11:31 AM EDT

Michigan State v Michigan Getty Images

At what point do we start getting concerned about Michigan State?

After losing 58-56 to No. 4 Michigan on Sunday afternoon, No. 9 Michigan State has now lost three straight games.

On paper, those losses don’t look all that bad. Indiana beat them in East Lansing last Tuesday, they lost at Ohio State last Sunday and, most recently, they lost to Michigan in Ann Arbor.

The Spartans are just the latest team to succumb to the meat-grinder that in the Big Ten regular season, right?

A closer look, however, reveals some concerns.

For starters, it’s been weeks since Branden Dawson played well. He’s scored just 22 points over his last four games, with just 16 rebounds to 11 turnovers during that stretch. Tom Izzo has sat Dawson down next to him down the stretch of late, preferring to use Denzel Valentine alongside Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne.

Dawson isn’t the only Spartan that’s struggled during this three-game losing streak. Point guard Keith Appling is averaging just 6.0 points during this three-game losing streak, with eight assists and nine turnovers while shooting just 5-23 from the floor, 0-9 from three (he’s 2-22 from three the past five games) and 8-13 from the free throw line. While Appling momentarily looked like he snapped out of his recent slump as he led the Spartans back from a ten-point deficit with four minutes left, he turned the ball over with the score tied and just 20 seconds left, watching as Trey Burke picked his pocket and went the other way for a wide-open, game-winning dunk.

There’s more.

Michigan State lost to Michigan on a night where the Wolverines — who got beaten up physically and gave up 84 points to Penn State — forced 18 turnovers and held Sparty to just 35.6% shooting. Taking it one step further, a “soft” Michigan team beat a “tough” Michigan State team with their defense on a night where they didn’t hit a single three-pointer.

This comes on the heels of the Spartans losing to Ohio State on a night where Aaron Craft torched Appling and Deshaun Thomas shot just 4-16 from the floor.

Without question, these are red flags for the Spartans as we dive into the best month of the college hoops season.

By no means should you write off any team coach by Tom Izzo, particularly one with as much size and talent as this team has, but it will be something to keep an eye on over the next two weeks as we head into Selection Sunday.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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