East Lansing — It’s been two weeks since Michigan State last played at the Breslin Center.
And as the ninth-ranked Spartans finally return home and get set to take on No. 14 Iowa in the second of two early-season Big Ten games, they feel like they’ve handled the time away from home quite well.
It began with victories over then-No. 17 UCLA and Texas to win the Las Vegas Invitational before Michigan State fell in overtime at Louisville in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. On Friday, the Spartans opened conference play with a win at Rutgers against a team that was coming off a road win over Miami (Fla.) and had sold out its home arena in November for the first time in more than 20 years.
“It says that we know how to come together and use momentum as a team, rely on our chemistry and pull together a win, especially in an environment like this, very hostile,” junior guard Joshua Langford said. “Rutgers, their fans did a good job of coming to support them and making it very hard even to play in. It speaks volumes for how we came out and won the game and how we’re growing together.”
While it hasn’t been perfect over the last couple of weeks, Michigan State feels like it started to shore up some things in the victory over Rutgers.
The biggest problem the Spartans have had this season has been turnovers. They committed 24 in the win over Texas and another 17 in the loss to Louisville. Against the Scarlet Knights, Michigan State had just two in the first half and finished the game with seven. Michigan State also cut down on its penchant for fouling and sending opponents to the line as Rutgers took just 16 free throws after Louisville attempted 41.
“We accomplished what we wanted to accomplish,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
But, in the world of Big Ten basketball, things don’t get any easier, even with a return home. The Spartans will host an Iowa team at 6:30 p.m. that won the 2K Classic last month and lost a close game to Wisconsin on Friday in its conference opener.
And it’s the third game in six days for the Spartans, who have played the last two without senior guard Matt McQuaid because of a deep thigh bruise. He is questionable to play against the Hawkeyes.
Matt Charboneau on MSU's win at Rutgers to open Big Ten play The Detroit News
“It’s really tough without the (minutes) of McQuaid,” Izzo said. “Other guys are getting a chance but is our best defender and kind of our solidest player. We just have to figure it out.
“We’re like and NBA team now. Go home, watch some film, have a walk-through. I don’t like it at all. I'm still questioning these Big Ten games this early, personally. Nothing bad, it just makes it so hard to fit games into your schedule. This is brutal for our guys.”
But it’s something Michigan State is used to. On top of the early Big Ten games that every team in the conference has had to adjust to starting last season, the Spartans are often mixing in several high-profile games throughout non-conference play.
That continues when they head to Florida on Saturday, a trip the Spartans feel they’re ready for considering what they’ve already been through.
“It definitely gives some confidence to the young guys being able to win in these environments,” fifth-year senior Kenny Goins said. “We’re gonna have to win a couple more of these if we want to have a chance to win the Big Ten. … It will definitely help them learning how to do quick preps, quick scouts and whatnot when it comes to the Big Ten tournament and March Madness. This isn’t the first quick turnaround we’ve had and now they can see some steps in the right direction.”
Junior guard Cassius Winston agrees that the tough stretch is good for Michigan State’s inexperienced players.
“We’re definitely throwing them into the fire,” Winston said. “A lot of practices, a lot of games. That’s not the norm but it is what it is. They’ve done a great job so far. It will start to level out and we’ll see them grow a lot more.”
After Michigan State finishes the week at Florida, a lull in the schedule arrives. The Spartans will play only three times the rest of the month and all three games will be at home.
The calendar then turns to 2019 and it all begins again. Before that, the Spartans will be happy with some down time.
“We’ll enjoy it on the ride home,” Izzo said of the win at Rutgers. “Then we’ll prepare for another game Monday, and once we get by that we’re gonna take a little break.”
No. 14 Iowa at No. 9 Michigan State
Tip-off: 6:30 p.m. Monday, Breslin Center, East Lansing
TV/radio: FS1/WJR 760
Records: Iowa 6-1, 0-1 Big Ten; Michigan State 6-2, 1-0
Outlook: The game features the Big Ten's top two offensive scoring teams. Michigan State averages 86.9 points per game and Iowa averages 82.6 points. … The Hawkeyes rank second in the country in free-throw makes per game (25.3) and second in attempts (32.7). Iowa has made 19 or more free throws in six of seven games. … MSU has won 11 of the last 13 vs. Iowa, including four of five at home.