No. 22 Michigan State happy to be back home, but faces another test in Louisville
East Lansing — Michigan State played its home opener three weeks ago, but since then, the Spartans haven’t spent a whole lot of time at the Breslin Center.
With two non-conference road games — vs. Kansas in New York and at Butler — as well as three games last week in the Bahamas where Michigan State reached the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis, the Spartans are looking forward to being back in front of the home fans.
They’ll get that chance Wednesday when they host Louisville at 7:15 p.m. in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
“We haven't (played at home) in a while, man,” senior center Marcus Bingham said. “We’ve got to pack it out and we look forward to the atmosphere and we’ll be ready for it. Louisville is a good team and they’re playing real good right now, so we’ve got to prepare for them.”
Getting to play the game in the Breslin Center will be important for No. 22 Michigan State as it attempts to build on what has been a solid start to the season. After playing No. 3 Kansas close in the opener, the Spartans got on a roll and won five in a row, including knocking off Loyola Chicago and No. 17 UConn in the Bahamas before fading in the second half against No. 4. Baylor.
The result this week was Michigan State entering the national rankings for the first time this season, proving it is making progress with Big Ten play set to begin next week.
“I think it's something that says what we said, that tournament proved to somebody that we have the ability to get somewhere to do something,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I don't think that anybody's feeling good about how we played the last half of the (Baylor) game. So the players aren’t looking at (being ranked) like, ‘Wow.’ You’re at Michigan State and the wow is when you're not ranked. So I guess I would say that I'm glad other people are seeing in our team what I'm seeing in them and that's some potential.
“The play was pretty good and the competition. I don't know many teams that have played two top-six teams … and two other teams that were ranked or, as I said, Loyola is a very good team and they're gonna win a lot of games.”
The next opponent falls into that category.
Louisville (5-1) isn’t ranked and did lose this season to Furman, but the Cardinals have rebounded nicely, beating Maryland last week in the championship game of their tournament and they’ll have coach Chris Mack back after serving a six-game suspension.
The Cardinals are not a great offensive team, but they have been a solid defensive team, meaning Michigan State will need to clean up the turnover problem that has plagued the early part of the season.
“They are balanced, very good defensively,” Izzo said. “They shoot a ton of threes and open the court up. Not a lot in the post, and yet it should be a very, very good game. I am hoping this is one of those big games and I hope the home crowd makes a difference even though it is on Wednesday night. This will be one of the better home games we played in the non-conference the last couple of years.”
As for those turnovers, the numbers are ugly.
The Spartans are averaging 15.7 a game and the point guards — sophomore A.J. Hoggard and junior Tyson Walker — are each giving it away three times a game.
Those numbers don’t add up to success on most nights, so getting it straightened out will be critical if the Spartans expect to get the offense moving and helping the likes of Max Christie and Joey Hauser break out of shooting slumps.
“Nobody is trying to turn the ball over,” Izzo said. “The problem is that the situation is different in different games. I think our point guards are not playing enough off of two feet. Too much broad jumping and a little bit more out of control. They’re averaging three a game each, that’s six right there. For point guards, that’s a lot. And then everybody else is getting one and two.
“That’s a lot, and then everybody else is getting one or two. We’ve tried to show them film of the turnovers and how ridiculous some of them are. When we didn’t turn the ball over, we’ve gotten a lot more shots and played much better.”
Time will tell if the turnover numbers improve, and if they do, will the offensive consistency follow for a team that’s starting to build some momentum?
“I think it's just going to be a matter of time,” Izzo said. “Hopefully it will be Wednesday night because Wednesday's a big game for us. It's a home game against a very good team, and can we come off this tournament and put some things together? … I think we're on the same page and that's encouraging.”
Louisville at No. 22 Michigan State
► Tip-off: 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, Breslin Center, East Lansing
► TV/radio: ESPN/WJR 760
► Records: Louisville 5-1; Michigan State 5-2
► Outlook: The Spartans and Cardinals square off in the challenge for the third time. In the last meeting, Louisville beat Michigan State, 82-78, in overtime in 2018. The last meeting in East Lansing was a 71-67 victory or MSU in 2015. … The Big Ten has won the last two challenges. … Michigan State is 8-12 in the challenge while Louisville is 4-3.