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Denzel Valentine shows why MSU is for-real challenger in Big Ten

It’s early days in the college basketball season, but when big-time teams get together one can learn a lot about where things stand. On Tuesday night, the Michigan State Spartans made a major statement against the No. 4-ranked Kansas Jayhawks.

Well, to be more specific, senior guard  Denzel Valentine made a major statement. He put up just the fourth triple-double in Spartans history, going for a 29-point, 12-rebound, 12-assist night in MSU’s 79-73 over the Jayhawks at the Champions Classic in Chicago.

Valentine joins perhaps some of the most elite company in Spartans history, with Draymond Green, Magic Johnson and Charlie Bell the only three other Michigan State Spartans to pull off that feat.

Interestingly enough, it may have been Green that sparked Valentine and the Spartans after a sluggish start to the season. Even though Sparty won 82-55 over Florida Atlantic to open the season, Green reached out to challenge the team according to Kyle Austin of MLive.com.

His message was apparently simple — y’all suck.

From the article:

Draymond Green took to the team’s group text message with some of his typical trash talk, going down the roster and telling each player how they would fail. He told them he’d bet money on them against Kansas, but would probably lose.

The message was heard loud and clear, but most importantly it was the senior leadership of the Spartans that took this team by the scruff of the neck on Tuesday night and got it a signature victory in front of a national audience.

Even more impressive and telling? It was just the second triple-double given up in the history of Kansas basketball.

But it wasn’t the most impressive part of the night for Valentine or the Spartans either. Try the fact that Valentine’s 10 made field goals and 12 assists equaled having a hand in 22 of the 28 made field goals by the team.

That fact wasn’t lost on head coach Tom Izzo either, who sees a lot of the character of Green in Valentine — on the basketball court and in the locker room too.

“The kid, he’s like Draymond,” Izzo said, via MLive.com. “There’s a million things he’s not good enough at, but winning is something he’s good enough at, work ethic is something he’s good enough at and basketball IQ is something he’s good enough at.”

It wasn’t just Green’s message or Valentine’s big night either, and that’s the hidden detail that can make this game mean more than just that one shining personal moment. It also just so happened to come from fellow seniors.

Both Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello finished in double figures in the box score, with Forbes adding 13 points on 4 of 8 shooting and Costello putting up 10 points and nine rebounds.

It wasn’t just the offensive output that mattered either, as the Spartans held an 8-1 advantage in blocked shots, while also holding Kansas to 34.8 percent shooting from the field.

While this is November and the first weekend of April is a long way off, efforts like Michigan State and Denzel Valentine put up on Tuesday night sure show it is capable of being there at the end of it all.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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