Michigan State faces stiff test in Wisconsin as it tries to bounce back from defeat

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

After Michigan State opened Big Ten play on Sunday night with a 14-point loss to Northwestern in a game where the Spartans played poorly in nearly every facet, coach Tom Izzo understandably was upset and said he was certain when he looked at the film, he wouldn’t see anything to change his mind.

It was in that moment after the loss to the Wildcats that Izzo called the Spartans’ performance “inept” and “disgusting.”

Michigan State guard Rocket Watts, right, shoots over Northwestern guard Boo Buie during the first half of last Sunday's game.

Well, as No. 12 Michigan State continued preparations for its Christmas Day showdown with No. 9 Wisconsin at the Breslin Center, Izzo said watching the film merely confirmed all he first thought.

“The kind of the energy that we had, coming off a decent week of practice … I thought was not adequate to what we expect here, that we normally get here,” Izzo said Wednesday after practice. “I would say that I felt just as bad watching it in that respect, and I’m not used to it. But I’m not used to anything this year, so it’s hard to blame it on the players. They’ve been great as far as going through this COVID season.

“I’ve got a lot of great things to say about them, but they had to learn and we had to show them and we had to practice and explain that. This year in this league, I don't care who you play, where you play them, you better bring it.”

The Spartans (6-1, 0-1 Big Ten) clearly did not do that against the Wildcats. From a porous defense that rarely made things difficult for Northwestern to an offense that never found any sort of rhythm, Michigan State lacked the energy from the opening tip, and that’s the one thing that drew Izzo’s ire.

To their credit, Izzo said, the players have responded. It’s a process that began as soon as the Spartans had piled onto a bus Sunday night for the ride home.

Led by captains Aaron Henry, Foster Loyer and Joshua Langford, players already were breaking down the game film themselves.

“The ride home ride home was kind of disappointing because we lost,” junior Gabe Brown said. “But as soon as we got on the bus, Henny, Josh, Frosty — our captains — they started watching film and dissecting it. Rocket (Watts) was in there. I watched a little bit. Everybody was doing a part on the way home and then we had a meeting where we talked the next morning.

“Now we're trying to just bounce back from that and get ready for Wisconsin.”

It’s not exactly the easiest team to attempt to bounce back against.

The Badgers (7-1, 1-0) have one of the most experienced teams in the country and are coming off a blowout win over Louisville last week in a makeup of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge game that had been postponed from earlier in the month. Four players are scoring in double figures for Wisconsin and the top five scorers are all seniors.

Brown and Henry, also a junior, said they’re looking forward to bouncing back against one of the top teams in the country and have spent the past few days doing their best to put forth the effort they know it takes to win a conference title, something Michigan State has done in each of the past three seasons.

“You could point to a lot of different things,” Henry said when asked about the struggles at Northwestern. “When it comes down to it, it's the players on the court. The coaches put in a game plan and we didn't execute on both ends and of court. We didn't get blown out, but it was a loss for sure that meant a lot to us. Not only by the score, but just about how we lost. You can't lose like that and expect to win a Big Ten title or compete in a conference like this.”

Hauser should be ready

The Spartans will likely have Joey Hauser in the lineup. The junior forward banged his knee in the Northwestern game and was limited in the second half, but Izzo is expecting Hauser to be ready on Friday after there was nothing found to be structurally wrong with his knee.

“He’s been a little slow,” Izzo said. “He practice today but didn’t practice yesterday. … It was a sprain, but sprains are different for every guy. I’m hoping he’ll be fine to go by Friday. He did go through two-thirds of practice today before we pulled him. We’ll see now how it reacts after a little activity and how it reacts in the morning.”

Special visitors

Izzo said there will be some parents of the players coming to East Lansing for Christmas Day and said they will undergo testing so the team will limit the chance of any COVID-19 issues.

“I think that’s gonna be great,” Izzo said, “because I think these kids have been through hell.”

The players echoed that statement, and with the holidays here, they admit it’s tough not seeing family.

“Man, I miss my parents,” Henry said. “It’s good calling my dad and calling my mom, but I feel like around this time they would have been up for a game or two and it would have been good to get a hug or something.”


Twitter: @mattcharboneau