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A new (OK, old) title contender

Everything old is new again. And by old, I mean seven years old.

Technically, Michigan State's win against Texas Saturday was on a neutral court. Not sure playing in Auburn Hills, Mich., counts as a neutral court (since the campus is about 80 miles away), but that doesn't take away from a nice, nice win for Tom Izzo's team.

That should officially log the Spartans as national title contenders. (As if they ever weren't.)

The roundabout, goofy reason? Texas is the only team that's beaten UCLA this season. The Bruins are responsible for the Spartans' lone loss. So let's consider all three of 'em title contenders – and get back to Michigan State.

As Foxsports.com's Jeff Goodman points out, when Michigan State lost to D-II Grand Valley State on Nov. 2, it put a cloud of doubt over Izzo's group. Sure, it was an exhibition game, but losing to a D-II team doesn't bode well for any team.

Unless, of course, that team has Drew Neitzel and a host of other talented players, including Raymar Morgan, Goran Suton and fab freshmen Kalin Lucas (Saturday's star) and Durrell Summers.

The Spartans still aren't the same team that went to three straight Final Fours from 1999-2001, but they're getting close. They hit the boards, play solid (and improving) defense and – at least on Saturday – do pretty well taking care of the ball.

But most of all, Michigan State is a damn fine offensive team. It's been its strength the last few years (and probably an underrated strength, at that), but probably deserves more notice.

Teams like Duke, North Carolina, Arizona, Kansas and Texas are usually atop kenpom.com's adjusted offensive ratings. Yet the Spartans have finished the last few season ranked 38th, 18th, 6th and 10th. Only in 2007 was their defensive efficiency rated higher than their offensive efficiency.

This season, Michigan State is 7th in adjusted efficiency, scoring 119.3 PPP (adjusted tempo: 64.8 per 40 minutes). With its balance and depth, expect it to stay that way. And as the defense continues to improve, you'll hear even more talk about Michigan State as a serious contender.