East Lansing — Through six weeks of the season, Michigan State has already checked off several of its preseason goals while notching its share of impressive victories.
The Spartans are ranked No. 1 in the nation for the second straight week, much of it thanks to wins over the likes of Kansas, Providence, Louisville and Florida. They’ve also won the Wooden Legacy, something they emphasized before the season began, and they’ve managed to control their home court, another issue over the past few years.
Now, as Michigan State (11-0) faces its final two non-conference games it has the chance to match the best start in school history — the 12-0 record achieved by the 2000-01 team.
“Well it means nothing in the big picture,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said of the record. “But for me it means a lot because I’ve always tried to push for each team to kind of have its own footprint, something that it can hang its hat on. You hope it’s in Final Fours and all this stuff but … you know we didn’t really talk about breaking the best start record until it started to become a reality and I think this is the kind of team, when you look at our non-conference schedule compared to a lot of teams, it’s significant. I think that this would be a significant achievement and a way to put their selves in the record book.
“That’s what these kind of milestones do. They’re insignificant as far as winning the Big Ten or getting to the NCAA Tournament or getting to a Final Four, or even winning a national championship. But it’s an accomplishment that few people have done and that’s the way I try to approach it, to try to motivate in a small way that adds up to the big picture.”
Michigan State’s chance to match the record comes Saturday when it travels to Northeastern as part of a Spartans tripleheader. The women’s team plays on Friday night followed by the men at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday. The hockey teams square off on Saturday night.
After that, Michigan State takes on Oakland at The Palace on Dec. 22 with a chance to establish a new mark, assuming it gets the victory at Northeastern, which is far from a given.
Northeastern was in the NCAA Tournament last season and took Notre Dame to the limit. It also has a victory this season over No. 15 Miami (Fla.).
“The game is a major concern for me, because people around here don’t have any idea who Northeastern is, and players don’t have as good of an idea who Northeastern is,” Izzo said. “Now I think it’ll help after today’s practice when we show our players some film of their game against Notre Dame last year, it’ll help connect the dots a little bit.”
The Spartans likely won’t have junior center Gavin Schilling back. He continues to fight a turf toe injury that has kept him out the entire regular season.
“I do not envision him being ready to play by Saturday,” Izzo said. “I guess there is a slight possibility.”
Izzo said the progress has been slow and he’s resisted pushing it too much in hopes Schilling won’t have any setbacks when he returns. Schilling has begun practicing on a limited basis, going mostly through shooting drills.
The debate at this point is if there is more value in getting Schilling some time before Big Ten play opens at Iowa on Dec. 29, or if the added time off will be more beneficial.
“The two thoughts of wisdom are, if he plays in that game at least he gets a game under his belt before the Big Ten,” Izzo said. “The other is, he gets another week to make sure that thing (is healed). Those kinds of injuries, the more rest you can give them the better. I’m leaning toward the second (option).”
The Spartans won’t see a big team at Northeastern, but they will see an experienced team. Guard David Walker averages 21.5 points a game for the Huskies while fellow senior Quincy Ford scores 16.3 a game and grabs 6.8 rebounds.
The Huskies followed the win over Miami by beating Harvard only to lose two straight to Detroit and Western Michigan.
They offer a challenge as the Spartans look to close the non-conference season with a pair of road victories.
“It’s an important week for us this week,” Izzo said. “I think we need to get better as a team. We have a lot of room for improvement, but maybe the best reason we have for having a good week is we have a tough team to play. It’s an important two-game stretch for us. … The biggest reason is this team is trying to be different than some other teams that haven’t been able to accomplish what this team has a chance to in the first phase of the season.”
Best starts in Michigan State history: