East Lansing – — Michigan State is off to a quick start this season, and now it heads to California looking to win a championship.
The Spartans (4-0) are playing well early and have vaulted to No. 3 in the nation, thanks in large part to their victory over Kansas last week. Now they get set to play in the Wooden Legacy tournament, where the bracket is set up for them to face No. 11 Arizona in the championship game.
“Hopefully, we can bring home a championship,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “That’s what we have to learn to do — see if you can be consistent and disciplined, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
Getting a shot at Arizona won’t be simple, and it begins at 6:30 p.m. Thursday against Boston College. A victory in that game would set up a meeting Friday against the winner of the UC-Irvine vs. Boise State game. The first two days will be played at Cal State Fullerton, with the final games Sunday at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
Boston College (3-0) is also off to a good start, and former Michigan State assistant Stan Heath is now on the Eagles’ staff.
Izzo and the Spartans won’t take anything for granted.
“If everything went like it’s supposed to go, we’ll get to play Arizona,” Izzo said. “But I can’t look past the first game. I think the teams we are playing in this tournament are different. You won’t see all big names, but sometimes it’s harder to play teams like Boise State. We struggled with them at home a couple years ago. They are very well-coached.
“There’s not a lot of prep time. … It’s Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Whether we win or lose, I don’t think we will get back until 6 a.m. on Monday. Then we play Wednesday. We are on a NBA track right now, so we’ll need more depth; that’s one advantage of having it.”
Michigan State’s depth hasn’t been what it hoped for in the first few games, with Gavin Schilling (turf toe) still out and forward Marvin Clark slowly working back from foot surgery.
Izzo said he doesn’t expect Schilling to play this week, though Clark has played in the last two games.
They’ll need all hands on deck this week and headed into next with a showdown with Louisville coming Dec. 2 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
“It’s going to ratchet up a lot, and we’re going to have to get down into a playing groove here pretty quick,” Izzo said. “And other than Schilling … we’re starting to get into form.”
As the Spartans narrow down the rotation, they’ll also look to start finding a more consistent effort.
They weren’t sharp in the first half against Eastern Michigan on Monday after not finishing well in the victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff last Friday.
“We just need to come out with a better start,” senior Denzel Valentine said. “That slow start can’t happen against some good teams that we’re going to play. The next thing you know, we’ll be down 20 or something if we’re playing away or on the road. We need to come out with a good start and play the whole 40 minutes. That’ll be key.”
There won’t be a lot of time to enjoy the Southern California climate as Michigan State will play three games in four days.
Even so, the players are ready to get away.
“I can’t wait to get out there,” Valentine said. “It’s warm and we’ll be playing some top-notch competition. Getting away from East Lansing and the cold a little bit will be nice and being able to play some great teams.”
Beating those great teams will make for a gratifying trip for Izzo.
“I’m excited that we’re playing decent,” he said. “When you win by 20 or 30 and be a little bit unhappy. I’m just totally amazed at the number of teams that have been upset this year already. So I hope that teaches our guys that they have to be ready to play every game, and we better be ready to play out there.”
Boston College vs. No. 3 Michigan State
Tip-off: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Titan Gym, Fullerton, Calif.
TV/radio: ESPN2/Spartan Sports Network
Notable: MSU faces Boston College in the first game of the tournament and will face the UC-Irvine vs. Boise State winner on Friday. Teams on the other side of the bracket include Arizona, Santa Clara, Providence and Evansville. The championship game is Sunday in Anaheim. … Michigan State’s last early season tournament title came at the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in 2013.