Michigan State entered Tuesday’s Big Ten opener ranked No. 1 in the country.
But the Spartans were an underdog at unranked Iowa.
And that made perfect sense, really.
Truth is, Michigan State — thanks to a resume featuring wins over Kansas, Louisville and Providence — was always going to remain No. 1 until it took its first loss. But the Spartans ceased being the nation’s best team, or even one of the nation’s best teams, the moment Denzel Valentine suffered a knee injury four days before Christmas. So that first loss was always just a matter of time. It almost came last week against Oakland. And it was hardly a surprise when it came Tuesday night in a road game against a solid Iowa team.
Final score: Iowa 83, Michigan State 70.
The Spartans never led even once in the game.
“Michigan State is a great team even without Valentine,” said Iowa’s Mike Gesell, who finished with a game-high 25 points. “They have a lot of guys who can play.”
Technically, that second part is true.
But the Spartans don’t have anybody who can play quite like Valentine.
The senior guard is leading Michigan State in points (18.5 per game).
And rebounds (8.3 per game).
And assists (7.1 per game).
You lose that, you lose a lot. And not even a future Hall of Fame coach like Tom Izzo can lose that kind of production and still go win tough road games in the league. So now the Spartans are 13-1 with a loss at unranked Iowa. And it looks like either Kansas or Oklahoma will be the new No. 1 when the Associated Press and Coaches polls are updated Monday.
By the way, Kansas and Oklahoma also play Monday.
So we could have a rare No. 1 vs. No. 2 game early next week.