Look, I don’t pretend to believe that what happened to Indiana in 1981 or UNLV in 1990 or Syracuse in 2003 has any bearing on what will happen to Michigan State in 2009.
It will have no bearing, since those seasons are not interconnected.
But historically speaking, teams that lose by 35 points at some point in the season don’t win national titles.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo talked a bit about that December game (a 98-63 woodshedding at the hands of North Carolina) earlier today, and said his team is much better than the one that got destroyed by the Tar Heels.
He’s right. Put those two teams on the floor now, and it’s a pretty sure thing Michigan State doesn’t lose anywhere near like that again if they play 50 more times.
But … it’s not like there’s any remotely recent precedent to suggest a team that gets shelled by 35 will conquer the Final Four. It just doesn’t happen.
I looked up the last 42 national champions (this begins at the convenient research starting point of the opening of the UCLA dynasty), and found none of them lost by 35 points.
None lost by 30 points.
One lost by 25 points.
Just five lost by 20 points.
Eight of them lost a game at some stage of the season by 18 points.
It’s an even bleaker picture in the recent past. Of the last 15 national champs, only one (2002 Maryland) lost once during their title season by 18 points or more.
This is all a nice way of saying it would be a quirky statistical feat if Sparty won two more games.
The rundown of the largest margins of defeat absorbed by an eventual national champ since 1967:
26: 1993 North Carolina (lost 88-62 at Wake Forest)
23: 1985 Villanova (lost 85-62 at Pittsburgh)
22: 1975 UCLA (lost 103-81 at Washington)
22: 1991 Duke (lost 96-74 to North Carolina)
21: 2002 Maryland (lost 99-78 at Duke)
19: 1988 Kansas (lost 100-81 to Iowa)
18: 1974 N.C. State (lost 84-66 to UCLA)
18: 1983 N.C. State (lost 99-81 at North Carolina)
18: 1983 N.C. State (lost 91-73 at Wake Forest; back-to-back 18-point losses)