East Lansing — In the wake of Michigan State's loss to Duke on Tuesday, Tom Izzo found himself in a bit of limbo.
Considering everything he and the Spartans have accomplished the past 20 years, just sticking close to the No. 4 team in the country wasn't making him feel that great. "Moral" victories, he said, don't exist at Michigan State.
But at the same time, he is convinced his team will be better before the end of the calendar year after struggling defensively and having a hard time shooting (5-for-20 on 3-pointers) against Duke.
Much of that optimism exists because Michigan State should be closer to full strength by mid- to late-December as Alvin Ellis III (sprained ankle) and freshman Javon Bess (broken foot) should be back in the lineup and junior transfer Bryn Forbes will have shed the brace on his broken left hand.
"We're just gonna build off what we did," Izzo said. "And we'll run a lot better offense. We will shoot the ball a little bit better. But if we don't defend better, we will be an average team. And we will defend better because two of the guys out are better defenders than some of the guys playing."
While the depth won't be back Friday night when No. 19 Michigan State hosts Loyola of Chicago, that doesn't mean it won't be a chance for the Spartans to start turning the corner.
But with a shorthanded bench, most of the pressure will fall on Izzo's three most reliable players, or at least three players he needs to be reliable — seniors Travis Trice and Branden Dawson and junior Denzel Valentine.
Trice has played well in two games and Dawson was better against Duke than he was against Navy, but Valentine is still seeking to get untracked after another difficult game (4-for-9, five turnovers).
"We need him," Izzo said. "He's just too good a player. We need him not to turn it over, we need him to have his hands on the ball. He missed some really good shots.
"And Dawson, it was a good bounce-back game for him. He played a lot of minutes and had to do a lot of things. We played him at a lot of different positions. … If we get him stable, he's gonna be a hell of a player."
Getting better will be necessary with several big games coming up.
After tonight's game and a matchup against Santa Clara on Monday, Michigan State heads to the Orlando Classic next week with potential matchups against Marquette or Georgia Tech and Kansas.
The following week, Michigan State travels to Notre Dame in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
"There were a lot of positives I'll take out of this," Izzo said. "And we'll get better. We'll be a better team next week and we'll be a lot better team in two weeks and we'll be OK."
Loyola of Chicago at Michigan State
Tip-off: 7 p.m. Friday, Breslin Center, East Lansing
Records: Loyola of Chicago 2-0, No. 19 Michigan State 1-1
Outlook: The Spartans open at home with the first of just two games at Breslin Center in November. They are 19-0 in home openers under Tom Izzo, and last lost a home opener in 1976 against Western Michigan. … Loyola of Chicago returns its top five scorers from last season's team that finished 10-22.