East Lansing — There’s no doubt Michigan State’s players, like most college students, spend plenty of time on their phones.
Coach Tom Izzo is just hoping they take a minute to check some college basketball scores. If they did, they’d see what’s been happening in the past week near the top of the rankings as teams with lofty expectations have been busy losing to teams that could only be described as underdogs.
No. 2 Kansas is coming off a loss in Kansas City to Washington while ninth-ranked Notre Dame, the team Michigan State beat last week in a battle of No. 3 vs. No. 5, lost at home this week to Ball State. And No. 5 Florida, which pushed Duke to the limit two weeks ago at the PK80 Invitational, has lost three straight, including the last two at home to Florida State and Loyola-Chicago.
As No. 3 Michigan State (8-1, 2-0 Big Ten) gets set to host Southern Utah at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Breslin Center, Izzo is doing his best to make sure the Spartans are aware of the fact no opponent should be taken lightly.
“That was eye opening to me with some of the things that happened and some of the people it happened to,” Izzo said. “Kansas losing in Kansas City is not the norm. Florida losing two in a row at home is not the norm. I don’t know if they’re called upsets anymore because there’s so much parity, but some of those games were upsets.”
Michigan State avoided one of those upsets on Tuesday as it was capping off its two-game start to Big Ten play. The Spartans struggled for most of the game at Rutgers but made enough shots late and benefitted from some poor shooting from the Scarlet Knights.
The hope is that game was enough of a wake-up call to avoid any similar issues over the rest of the month as Michigan State caps off its nonconference schedule.
“There’s always a silver lining when you can make a point and win,” said Izzo, who sat Nick Ward and Cassius Winston for extended periods against Rutgers. “I’m not ready to lose a game and feel that was accomplished. I’m trying to avoid that before those things happen if they’re under our control.
“I want to make sure if we lose it’s because we get beat, not because we lose concentration.”
Izzo said there has been plenty of film work since the Rutgers game and the players have a better understanding of where they came up short. They also are aware of the upset bug biting plenty of other teams.
“We have to get better and be more aggressive,” sophomore Miles Bridges said. “Rutgers killed us on the offensive glass and we got to get better at that. Our defense, there was a lot of miscommunication, so I don’t know, we have a lot to get better at. There is no perfect team out there and there have been a lot of upsets and we don’t want that to happen to us.”
The Spartans aren’t expecting that to happen against Southern Utah (5-3), which has won three straight. The Thunderbirds are scoring 83.5 points a game but are allowing 83.3.
It’s the first meeting between the schools, and if Michigan State gets through unscathed, it has a week off for final exams before facing Oakland on Dec. 16 at Little Caesars Arena.
“I told my guys that we’ve got to worry about our opponent and know what they’re doing, but we’ve got start worrying about us,” Izzo said. “We’ve got get sharper on things we worked on — the setting, the screening and coming off them. Michigan State has got to get better and if Michigan State gets better I like our chances.”
Southern Utah at No. 3 Michigan State
Tip-off: 6 p.m. Saturday, Breslin Center, East Lansing
TV/radio: Big Ten Network/WJR 760
Records: Southern Utah 5-3; Michigan State 8-1, 2-0 Big Ten
Notable: Southern Utah is coached by Todd Simon, a Central Michigan graduate who is a native of Fowler, Mich. Simon has ties to a pair of MSU players. He was an assistant at UNLV when senior Ben Carter spent two seasons in Las Vegas and Simon coached senior Gavin Schilling when he was the head coach at Findlay Prep in Nevada. ... The Spartans will play six of their next seven games at the Breslin Center. … MSU enters the game with seven-straight wins, including six by 18 or more points.