MSU hoops ready for 'hellacious' stretch of games, quick prep

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

When there are only two weeks left in the regular season, there’s not much that teams in the Big Ten don’t know about each other.

Of course, that would be the case in a normal year, and the 2020-21 season has been far from normal. From the shortened non-conference season to the constant maneuvering with schedules to make up for multiple COVID-19 shutdowns to teams, not every team will reach 20 games by the end of next week.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo.

And a new wrinkle for Michigan State will be the fact it sees three teams for the first time in the final six games, beginning with Tuesday night’s game at Breslin Center against No. 5 Illinois.

“We're excited because we’ve got an opportunity,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said Monday. “It’s strange because we play so many teams that are ranked and I've gone a whole season playing two ranked teams in the Big Ten. Now, we're going to play four in a week and a half and the other strange thing is we're playing some teams for the first time.”

More: Green Room podcast: One on one with ex-Spartan, billionaire Mat Ishbia

This wasn’t exactly how it was supposed to be.

Outside of Sunday’s Maryland game, the other two first-time meetings were supposed to have already happened. However, the originally scheduled matchup with Illinois in January was postponed because of COVID issues in the Spartans’ program while next week’s first Michigan game in Ann Arbor was set to be played in early February, but the Wolverines were in the middle of a shutdown.

Subscribers: Indiana win a start, but MSU long way from NCAA bubble

That makes for some tough game preparation in a window that is far tighter than it typically would be

“Coaches hate one-day preps and players love 'em,” said Izzo, “and we’ve got a bunch coming up.”

We're running a new-subscriber special — $1 for three months. Come join the fun, and subscribe here.

After Tuesday night’s game, Michigan State (11-9, 5-9 Big Ten) will turn right around and host No. 4 Ohio State on Thursday. The Spartans then hit the road to face Maryland on Sunday. The final week of the season sees Indiana visiting on March 2, a trip to Crisler Center to face No. 3 Michigan on March 4 and the season finale at home against the Wolverines on March 7.

“It’s going to be a hellacious couple of couple of days with prep on Wednesday, game Thursday, prep Friday, travel Saturday, play Sunday and then the same routine (next week),” Izzo said as his team scrambles to get back on the NCAA Tournament bubble. “But it's also an incredible opportunity. So we're gonna look at it as it's an incredible opportunity, and see what we can do it.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau