In mid-January, the Spartans were 4–4 in the Big Ten Conference and trailed first place Ohio State (8–0) by four games in the standings. However, Michigan State then won 10 games in a row and tied for the Big Ten championship with Iowa and Purdue. Michigan State won the NCAA Tournament berth because of a better head-to-head performance against Big Ten rivals and a superior overall record (21–6).
As great as Indiana State’s Larry Bird was, he met his match in Earvin "Magic" Johnson Jr., the Michigan State sophomore point guard who led the Spartans to the national championship. Johnson was a unique player who made his teammates better, and along with Bird, he helped revolutionize the game. Their rivalry started in college and continued into the NBA, helping basketball reach new levels of popularity all along the way.