MSU’s Izzo doesn’t shy from early season challenges

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
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Chicago — Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has always been clear about how he wants his teams to approach each season — he wants them at their best come Tournament time.

To get the Spartans prepared, Izzo has never shied from scheduling big games, especially early in the season.

No. 13 Michigan State playing in one Tuesday, taking on No. 4 Kansas in the Champions Classic. It was the fifth straight year the Spartans have taken part in the event. They went 2-2 the previous four.

But more often than not in recent years, Michigan State has come up short in early-season matchups with some of the other top teams in the country.

And frankly, Izzo would like to start winning.

“I want to make sure our own fans realize that we’re playing all these teams all the time, and a lot of times not at home,” Izzo said. “The neutral sites, which I don’t like personally, I’d rather play at home venues more, but we do what we do, and it’s been successful for us. I love the games we play, but you do got to win some of those games.”

Michigan State lost last season to Duke in the Champions Classic and to Kansas in the title game of the Orlando Classic. The year before it beat No. 1 Kentucky in the Champions Classic before losing to North Carolina in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Throw in other marquee losses — to Connecticut and North Carolina — and Michigan State is tired of coming up short.

“Why not try to shoot for the stars and see what we can do early and try to hold that the whole year,” senior Denzel Valentine said, “instead of just bringing it toward March. We want to show consistency throughout the whole year, until the very last game.

“Our record in the games may not have been the best, so we really want to use this as an opportunity to win this game and get off to a good start.”

There is still a benefit to playing these games, win or lose, according to Izzo.

“It doesn’t ruin the year,” Izzo said. “In fact, a lot of times it makes your year if you learn from however you do, whether you win and you learn from that and you move forward, or whether you lose and you figure out what your deficiencies are and you move forward.”

Slam dunks

Valentine was named to the Top 50 Wooden Award Watch list Tuesday. He had 13 points, grabbed eight rebounds and nine assists in Michigan State’s opening victory over Florida Atlantic.

... Michigan State is 2-2 in the Champions Classic, losing to Duke in 2011 and last season, and defeating Kentucky and Kansas.

Duke is 3-1 in the Classic, while Kentucky is 2-2, and Kansas is 1-3.

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