East Lansing — Quick turnarounds will be the norm this year in the Big Ten, and Michigan State is getting an early taste.
Like the rest of the conference, one-day preps are highlighting the fact the teams are fitting two Big Ten games into early December, a departure from past scheduling in an effort to get the conference tournament in a week early this season.
The Spartans got their day Monday as they prepared for their trip to Rutgers after beating Nebraska in the Big Ten opener at home Sunday. That left Monday for preparation and travel to Piscataway, N.J. Not only is it a difficult way to open Big Ten play, Michigan State will be playing its sixth game in 12 days.
“It’s different for a lot of guys,” sophomore Joshua Langford said. “Most of the guys that were on the team last year, we went through that situation. We had a lot of games in the beginning of the year when we traveled a lot. It’s definitely tough but we feel like we are all mentally prepared for that and we understand how our focus has to be and make sure we do it.”
The biggest benefit for No. 3 Michigan State (7-1, 1-0 Big Ten) is the fact it has one of the top defenses in the nation. That’s something that travels well and will get a team through a night it might be struggling on the offensive end.
It did Sunday as Michigan State shot only 26.3 percent from 3-point range and lacked the offensive flow coach Tom Izzo was looking for.
“We didn’t play very well offensively I didn’t think,” Izzo said. “We didn’t move the ball like we needed to. We didn’t do the things that we needed to do.
“Nick Ward did a good job. We did a good job getting it in to him. That was part of the game plan. Miles (Bridges) missed two or three layups, and we missed some shots inside and some good threes. So, shooting woes continued shooting 26 percent from the three. It was a win and now, somehow, we have to get ready in a day for a road trip.”
They’ll likely be ready against Rutgers (6-2, 0-1), which has lost two straight, including its Big Ten opener Sunday at Minnesota.
But the biggest reason will continue to be the defense Michigan State is playing. The Spartans allowed Nebraska to get its share of open looks from 3-point range, but Michigan State is the best in the nation in defending two-point shots. According to Kenpom.com, the Spartans are holding opponents to 33-percent shooting on two-point shots. Cincinnati is second at 38.1 percent and Minnesota is third, allowing 39.9 percent.
The Spartans also have 58 blocks three eight games with Jaren Jackson Jr. recording 17 and Ward getting 12. It’s that sort of rim-protection that is affecting opponents.
“Jaren's a big shot blocker, I block shots, they know that,” Ward said. “I think that affects them before the game, just knowing that we have shot-blockers, and depth too.”
Michigan State is also the best in the nation in field-goal percentage defense, and while Izzo wasn’t excited about what he perceived as a lack of aggression on Sunday, Nebraska coach Tim Miles was impressed.
“You have to drive to pass, you can’t drive to score with Michigan State,” Miles said. “We have been able to do that – drive to pass – when we won here, but there is no way you can do that with this team.”
Michigan State has never lost to Rutgers, including four Big Ten games. Izzo is convinced his team will face a stiffer test this time around under second-year coach Steve Pikiell.
“Rutgers is a much better team and that guy is a hell of a coach,” Izzo said. “Some of those guys that were freshmen and sophomores getting their brains beat are now juniors and seniors. They got to guard (Corey) Sanders, that’s a hell of a player. So, first kind of real, real road game as far as playing on an opponent’s home court.”
NO. 3 MICHIGAN STATE AT RUTGERS
Tip-off: 7 Tuesday, Rutgers Athletic Center, Piscataway, N.J.
Records: Michigan State 7-1, 1-0 Big Ten; Rutgers 6-2, 0-1
Outlook: It’s Michigan State’s sixth game in 12 days. The Spartans will play just twice in the next 10 days after returning from Rutgers. … The Scarlet Knights won six straight to open the season and lead the Big Ten in scoring defense, allowing 56.3 points a game. … Senior Deshawn Freeman is third in the Big Ten in rebounding at 9.3 a game.