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Toughness is mental and physical

One often hears about a sports team being physically tough.

But that’s a term, while overused, that also pertains to being mentally tough.

A good example of that came during the Michigan-Michigan State basketball game this past weekend.

The Spartans, missing two starters in Josh Langford and Nick Ward, and having a third player, Matt Ahrens, slowed by a back injury, rose up in the second half and won a game they probably shouldn’t have.

Ahrens made a couple of big baskets and went to the floor for a loose ball to save a State possession.

Coach Tom Izzo pressed all the right buttons as his team scored a 12-point win over the favored Wolverines.

Now, Izzo has been criticized in some circles as being a bit overzealous in his approach to the game.

But it’s a method that has been very effective, judging by the number of games he’s won and the conference crowns.

The MSU skipper preaches toughness, both physical and mental. Any player who can’t accept that quickly finds himself at the very end of the bench — or riding a bus home.

Had the Spartans had Langford and Ward in the lineup all season, they might not have lost more than a couple of games (forget those two disasters with Indiana) and claimed a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA tourney.

With presumptive BIG Player of the Year Cassius Winston showing the way, MSU could make a deep run in the big show.

Or they could lose to a Wofford or Iona, or one of those mid-majors who are capable of rising up and taking down a top seed.

On the surface, Michigan looks like a better choice to advance in the tourney.

They have one of the best coaches in the country in John Beilein, who has already guided his teams to the NCAA finals twice over the past five years.

And the Wolverines lineup has plenty of talent, even a few former McDonald’s All-Americans on the roster.

Being a McDonald’s All American is a coveted title nowadays. Kentucky coach John Calipari stockpiles them in his infamous “One and Done” program.

But give me a team — at any level — that relies on toughness ….and I’ll take them every time.