March 18, 2014 at 1:53 am

Bob Wojnowski

Michigan State is now trendy pick but Michigan still dangerous

Keith Appling and Tom Izzo have been through a lot this season for Michigan State. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)

Everyone saw this coming, right? Yeah, right. Tom Izzo thought he saw it coming, but even he wasnt sure. Now that the Spartans are revived, the reaction is both stunning and not surprising, and I dont care if thats impossible.

This is one of the charms of the NCAA Tournament, where what youve done is less important than what youre capable of doing. Michigan showed it last season, losing the Big Ten title on the final day, then nearly winning the national championship.

Two weeks ago, Michigan State looked awful in a 53-46 home loss to Illinois. Physical aches were yielding mental mistakes and dire narratives were being crafted.

Today, the Spartans wield a gigantic pair of pundit-awarded scissors, capable of cutting down all nets. I dare say, theres never been a No. 4 seed considered such an overwhelming Final Four favorite. It seems like a slap at the higher seeds in the East Regional Virginia, Villanova, Iowa State but its really a salute to Izzo, who knew the enormous potential his team possessed. So did everyone else, when the Spartans were ranked No. 1 early.

Right or wrong, Michigan and Michigan State essentially switched positions on the national-perception scale after the Spartans 69-55 rout in the Big Ten tournament title game. That doesnt necessarily mean anything, because both have made dramatic adjustments this season. The Wolverines started 6-4, rolled to the regular-season title and are a solid No. 2 seed, and I still dont think Michigan and Michigan State sharing the Final Four stage is farfetched.

Media darlings

Its amazing how quickly storylines can flip in college basketball. With its impressive three-game rebound, the Spartans turned back into a hot fashionable pick. All four ESPN experts Jay Bilas, Digger Phelps, Dick Vitale, Jay Williams predicted Sunday theyd win the national championship, shocking unanimity. Las Vegas gives Michigan State the second-best odds to win it all, behind only No. 1 Florida.

All of a sudden we went from the ugly duckling to the prom queen, said Izzo, the master of melded analogies, in addition to a master of March. Hes ecstatic the Spartans are whole again, fiercely defending the hole again, with Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson capable of dominating inside.

But Izzo has been around the bracket a few times, and hes not ready to announce all is perfect after one stirring weekend. Before Payne was fully back and Dawson was officially back and Keith Appling shook off his sore wrist, the Spartans had lost seven of 12.

To the fans, you put the jerseys back on and youre 100 percent, Izzo said. Were still not where we need to be if were going to make a deep run. We still have moments where were fouling too much or doing this or that.

When Izzo obsesses about something, its usually for a reason. He obsessed about the injuries and he wasnt sand-bagging, even as some fans wrote the team off. Now MSU is pushing the ball on offense and playing manic defense, and without any daunting obstacles in the East, its become a de-facto Tournament favorite.

The Wolverines might be further down the oddsmakers lists, but they have clutch shooters who have won a lot of tight games. With their offense, theyre just a few blistering nights from flipping perceptions again. While Michigan States recovery is happening right now, Michigans happened earlier, when it lost sophomore center Mitch McGary to back surgery.

Nifty switch

The Wolverines had more time to adjust, but John Beilein still pulled off a remarkable transition. His top three players from last season Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., McGary are either gone or sidelined. He crafted a new top three Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, Glenn Robinson III who stepped into larger roles.

McGarys absence didnt prevent Michigan from winning the Big Ten by three games, but now it could be telling, when interior baskets become more vital. McGary averaged 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds in last years Tournament, and while he has hinted he could be ready if the Wolverines reach the Final Four, its unreasonable to expect it.

As unpredictable as the Tournament is, this years edition is beyond madness. In three strong games, the Spartans shook off six weeks of concern and became a prom queen again. Meanwhile, the Wolverines have lost once since Feb. 16, and theyre asked if their confidence is shaken.

Not at all, I think were one of the most confident teams out there, Stauskas said. Just because we lose a game or dont shoot well, doesnt mean were gonna stop doing what we do. Weve shown times where we can really defend, and then other times where we completely break down. If we can be consistent defensively, I think well be all right because offensively, we take care of ourselves most of the time.

Identities have reformed and expectations have been restated as high as ever for Michigan State, as lofty as last year for Michigan. Employing different styles and traveling different paths, both have accomplished plenty, and every conceivable goal is still just a short run away.

2 Michigan vs. 15 Wofford

Tip-off: 7:10 p.m. Thursday, Bradley Center, Milwaukee
TV/radio: CBS/WWJ
Region: Midwest
Records: Michigan 25-8, Wofford 20-12
At stake: Third-round game against Texas or Arizona State