No one wanted to get ahead of themselves, regardless of the water-fountain welcome Tom Izzo received when he returned to the Michigan State basketball locker room.

Yes, the Spartans’ win at Michigan on Sunday is pivotal in their quest for a second straight Big Ten regular-season championship. But they all pointed to three remaining games — including a rematch with the Wolverines in less than two weeks — as equal steps toward that goal in a close race to the finish.

“We got a long way to go yet,” Izzo said, after MSU’s 77-70 win over Michigan at Crisler Center. “And we’re very vulnerable because our margin for error is small. But when you beat a team like this on their home court on a day like this, it was special.”

The No. 6 Spartans’ fifth straight win improved them to 23-5 and moved them back into first place in the Big Ten, a half-game ahead of No. 14 Purdue and a full game in front of the No. 9 Wolverines.

“It’s always great to beat your rival, especially in their house,” senior co-captain Matt McQuaid said in the locker room after Sunday’s win. “But we realized they’re a really good team, we got a lot of respect for them, and we gotta play them again.

“I think we’re gonna enjoy tonight, but tomorrow we gotta keep moving.”

MSU still has games left Saturday at Indiana, at home against Nebraska on March 5 and the rematch with Michigan on March 9. The Wolverines host Nebraska and also have a road game at No. 17 Maryland before visiting Breslin Center. And Purdue has home games with Illinois and Ohio State, before finishing on the road at Minnesota and Northwestern.

But by snapping the three-game losing streak against Michigan, the Spartans won their seventh Big Ten road game and eighth overall this season — something that will help bolster their NCAA tournament profile.

Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com on Monday moved MSU ahead of Michigan on the 2-seed line in his latest bracket projections, and he has the Spartans as the second No. 2 seed behind North Carolina. MSU is 11-3 against Quadrant 1 opponents, the most top-tier wins of any team in the country. Another victory over Michigan would add to that total. MSU also is 3-2 against Quadrant 2 teams and 9-0 against Quadrant 3 or 4 opponents.

If the Spartans run the table and win the Big Ten tournament, it is not inconceivable they can earn a No. 1 seed when the NCAA Tournament field is announced March 17, moments after the Big Ten championship game.

That is getting way ahead of everything — something neither Izzo nor U-M coach John Beilen did Sunday. Beilein would not even look toward the rematch with MSU because of the games in between.

“I just (told my team) we’re still in the championship hunt, anything can happen down the stretch,” Beilein said. “You know, who would think (MSU) would lose at home to Indiana, right? And we still have to beat Nebraska and go to Maryland. So anything can happen. Purdue has been pulling out some really great games, and those other teams aren’t out of it, either.”

But with the calendar about to flip to March, MSU is in command of its own destiny for at least a share of the Big Ten title. And it’s in position to maintain a high seed in the NCAAs despite its key injuries.

The Spartans get the bulk of the week off to rest their shortened lineup and keep mending their broken parts, hoping to get Nick Ward (hand) back by the end of the season and working to keep Kyle Ahrens (back) in the rotation.

“We’ll try to relax as much as possible when we get home, don’t be on your feet a lot,” sophomore forward Xavier Tillman said, “and just kind of get your mind relaxed for the next couple of games.”

MSU returns to action Saturday in Bloomington, Ind., against those same unranked Hoosiers who stunned the Spartans, 79-75, in overtime during MSU’s three-game, midseason losing streak.

It hosts a Nebraska team that, while reeling since the loss of Isaac Copeland for the season with a knee injury, still gave MSU a 70-64 fight Jan. 17 in Lincoln, Neb.

And of course, the circled end-of-season rivalry rematch with Michigan. A game, much like the unpredictable Big Ten 20-game schedule, that can be unpredictable.

Just like Sunday’s outcome that pushed the Spartans, injuries and all, back into the lead for the crown.

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