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Michigan State is a Final Four contender again

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Denzel Valentine scored 30 points Sunday vs. Indiana.Rey Del Rio

Michigan State is back. After meeting the challenge of a deep and talented Indiana team Sunday afternoon and pulling away for a fairly easy victory, Michigan State has the familiar look of a Tom Izzo-coached team that's revving up for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

The left knee injury to star player Denzel Valentine in December was a big setback. Even when Valentine returned, things weren't quite right, and that manifested itself in a three-game losing streak to Iowa, Wisconsin, and Nebraska.

Valentine is back to normal, which means he's one of the best players in the country. Indiana saw it in person as Valentine scored 30 points and had 13 assists in an 88-69 victory. Even an overtime loss to Purdue last Tuesday is excusable and impressive because the Spartans rallied from an 18-point deficit to force the overtime.


The Final Four watch has begun in East Lansing.

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Looking back on last week:

Elevator going up

Boston University: The Terriers have won six in a row, and suddenly it's not far-fetched to think they have a chance to win the Patriot League tournament.

Dayton: The Flyers are firmly in first place in the Atlantic 10 after winning nine straight, including a resolute victory at Rhode Island Friday night

Illinois State: The Redbirds had been disappointing, but suddenly woke up and beat Wichita State and Evansville back to back. They've won seven of their last eight. They could be a factor in the Valley tournament in St. Louis.

New Hampshire: Even a heartbreaking 59-58 loss to America East-leading Stony Brook (which has won 18 in a row) can't take away from the good season the Wildcats have had at 15-10 and 8-4. Even with Sunday's loss, they've won four of their last five, including a nice win over Albany.

Wisconsin: The Badgers upset Maryland in College Park Saturday, breaking the Terps' 27-game home-court winning streak. They've won seven in a row, including victories over Michigan State, Indiana, and Maryland.


Escalator going down

Auburn: The Bruce Pearl reconstruction of Auburn basketball is going to take a little longer. The Tigers are in free-fall with seven straight losses, leading scorer Kareen Canty was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team, and then Canty announced he's leaving school and turning pro. ''Our roster's been decimated with injuries, ineligibilities, suspensions,'' Pearl said, ''It's really tough.''

Louisville: Things were looking so good for the Cardinals after a big win over North Carolina . . . then came the announcement the school would self-impose an NCAA Tournament ban, anticipating eventual penalties stemming from a recruiting scandal that featured prostitutes for recruits. Then road losses to Duke and Notre Dame only made things worse.

Oregon: There was talk of the Ducks being a Final Four team, but Nike U lost its way in San Francisco, dropping consecutive games to Cal and Stanford, and now the Pac 12 title is up for grabs again.

Pitt: The only true road games Pitt plays are ACC games, and it hasn't done well in them: 2-4 after losing at North Carolina Sunday. The season is slipping away, as Pitt has lost five of seven. Maybe if Pitt played some road games in November and December, it might be mentally tougher.

Texas A&M: The Aggies have completely fallen apart, with five straight losses after losing to LSU Saturday. They were once 7-0 in the SEC and ranked No. 5 in the country. Mississippi and Kentucky are next, so it could get worse.


Washington: At one point, the Huskies looked like a surprise contender in the Pac 12, but they've lost five of their last seven and are now in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament.

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This week's Final Four: Michigan State, Kansas, Oklahoma, Xavier.

This week's national champion: Michigan State.

Joe Sullivan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeSullivan.