MSU vows improvement after loss to Duke
Chicago — It’s early November, and Michigan State is ranked highly and playing in a marquee matchup.
It’s a familiar position for the Spartans, especially since the inception of the Champions Classic, an annual event pitting Michigan State, Duke, Kentucky and Kansas in a round-robin series on three-year cycles.
The seventh edition was played Tuesday night at the United Center, and it also happened to feature No. 1 Duke against No. 2 Michigan State. It was a game befitting of the rankings, as it went back-and-forth the entire way with the Blue Devils surging late for the 88-81 victory.
Whether the Blue Devils and Spartans are the two best teams in the country is a valid discussion, but based on what happened Tuesday, they certainly belong near the top of the list. What seems even more likely — for both teams — is that they’ll get better.
That’s critical for Michigan State, as it got outrebounded by 12, turned the ball over 17 times and allowed Duke senior Grayson Allen to score a Champions Classic-record 37 points.
“I mean, we’re in November so we’re still learning,” sophomore Miles Bridges said. “Of course we wanted to win this game, but it’s just a learning block and we’ll keep it moving.”
Bridges added later the team was frustrated “because we gave the game away.”
That led to certain frustration for Izzo, whose record against Duke and coach Mike Krzyzewski dropped to 1-11. And judging by the reaction on social media, the fans were feeling the same way. To many, it seemed like a familiar pattern — Michigan State losing a big non-conference game in November.
But that’s short-sighted. Michigan State has won three times in the Champions Classic, including a win over Kentucky the last time No. 1 took on No. 2. It’s also had its share of wins in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
The key, as it has been throughout Izzo’s tenure, is how Michigan State grows from this point. The Spartans will need to shoot the ball better — that much is clear. And Izzo pointed out he was disappointed in guards Joshua Langford and Matt McQuaid for passing up open shots.
They were a combined 4-for-13 from the field, and Langford said afterward the remains confident despite the 3-for-9 shooting night.
Add in the 17 turnovers — five each from Bridges and Cassius Winston — and the Spartans have plenty to clean up. But odds are those things will get cleaned up. Izzo has proven it time and again.
“We did not play great,” Izzo said. “We did not play great and went down to wire. They’re gonna get better and we’re gonna get a hell of a lot better, I promise you, once we get a rotation. We got a little out of Ben Carter, but I was disappointed with McQuaid and Langford. I thought they passed up some shots. But maybe that’s part of being young.”
That’s something to remember two games into the season — Michigan State is still young. Yeah, the Blue Devils are, too, but they’ve got Allen, who happened to score 37 of their 88 points.
Michigan State doesn’t have that at this point. It starts four sophomores and a freshman. There is some senior help from Carter, Gavin Schilling and Tum Tum Nairn, but the youth will drive this team.
They’ll be better next week. They’ll be better when they enter Big Ten play. They’ll be better when March arrives.
That’s the blueprint of the Michigan State program under Izzo — be playing your best when it matters most.
Izzo was asked after the game if he was worried his team would be too down after losing a game they expected to win.
“Hell no,” he said. “I’ve done this my whole life. No. Definitely, no. If we would have won it I wouldn’t have felt any different than if we would have lost it. This is about building a team. This is about getting better every day. This is about learning where your warts are. I’m gonna go home and I’m gonna have a book full of warts. I have lot that we can work on and we’ll get better.”