Travel-worn Spartans get readjusted with Duke tilt up next
East Lansing — Michigan State is getting set for its showdown with Duke on Tuesday night at the Breslin Center, and for the last couple of days, the Spartans have been busy getting themselves acclimated to being back at home.
The Spartans returned from the Maui Invitational on Friday after spending just less than a week five time zones away from home and are starting to feel like themselves as they prepare to play one of the most highly anticipated games at the Breslin Center in years.
“It was hard on Friday, it was really hard,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said on Sunday evening. “I had two (practices) on Friday just to try to get it out of them twice. Yesterday was pretty good. Today was pretty good. But you know, it's a tough deal. Boy, that is the one thing I've probably underestimated over my career, but we did have a decent amount of time in between so they'll be no excuses.”
Michigan State (5-2) played three games in three days, bouncing back from the tournament-opening loss to Virginia Tech to beat Georgia and UCLA.
There has been a decent amount of time to refocus from the trip and dial back in to face a team that is currently the No. 1 team in the nation but will likely fall when the new rankings come out Monday after the Blue Devils lost at home last week to Stephen F. Austin.
The Spartans, too, will likely drop from their No. 3 ranking, but that hasn’t lessened the anticipation for what is about to take place on Tuesday as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
“Breslin is gonna be at a different level than anything I've seen,” sophomore Aaron Henry said. “I'm trying to think of the loudest game we've had here. Probably the Michigan game here (last season) was probably the loudest one, but I can only imagine what it's gonna be like on Tuesday. It’s good for our fans.
“It’s gonna be fun for them to see, it's gonna be fun for us to play and it's gonna be chance to see where we're at.”
Added junior Xavier Tillman, “I like the big ones at home, like the Michigan game last year when we got the win to win the Big Ten. When we have our crowd on our back it’s really hard to play here.”
Even after the long haul to Maui and back, the Spartans believe they are in the right place physically to take on the Blue Devils (7-1), a team they beat last season to reach the Final Four but one they’re playing at home for the first time since 2003.
“We got back on Friday and we just kind of had some practices where we just kind of got up and down so we could kind of get that jet lag off of us,” Tillman said. “That was pretty good. Saturday's practice, just a nice long practice that we had a whole afternoon to get rehab and really relax. And it's kind of like the same day we today, we had the whole morning to just kind of rehab and relax and then we got to work.
“So Coach is doing a really good job of making sure we take care of our body. So everybody's doing well right now.”
Not only will Tuesday’s game be a marquee matchup on the court, but former Spartan Draymond Green will be in town to have his No. 23 retired.
Tillman wears the same number and said he hasn’t spoken with Green about whether he’ll keep wearing No. 23.
“No, he doesn’t like me,” Tillman said before busting out in laughter.
Green has always made a point to communicate with Michigan State’s players and it’s no different with this team. Tillman says they hear from Green before big games on a regular basis.
The Spartans, Tillman especially, are grateful for everything Green still does for the program.
“It just shows all the work that he's put in and he's deserving of it,” Tillman said as he looked to the banners in the rafters at the Breslin Center. “I mean, he's got, let's see...four, five, six banners by himself in this in this arena. So it's well deserving, obviously. And then the way he gives back to us too, like with the strength and conditioning room that we have upstairs allowing us to get elite training and stuff like that. He’s a pivotal, pivotal part of our basketball team.”