New York — Tom Izzo knew this could happen, and he’s still not gonna change the way he does things.
The possibility of an 0-2 start was realistic with a game against No. 10 Arizona in Hawaii followed four days later by a matchup against No. 2 Kentucky in New York.
And that’s exactly where Michigan State stands following a 69-48 loss to Kentucky in the Champions Classic on Tuesday.
But the blowout loss was far from what Izzo was expecting — a disjointed offensive performance full of turnovers and poor shooting. The ugliness featured standout freshman Miles Bridges (2-for-11, nine turnovers) trying to do too much, only leading to more problems.
“Miles Bridges is one of the most coachable great players,” Izzo said. “He still competed, didn’t hang his head — but he did struggle and got his butt kicked. But good players self-evaluate and get better from it, where if he scored 30 points against Sisters of the Poor, it wouldn’t have mattered.”
And that’s where Izzo believes in his scheduling.
He’ll complain about it in the process, but he firmly believes it makes his team better. And it’s hard to argue with the results — more often than not, regardless of how the nonconference schedule plays out, Izzo’s teams almost always are better in March.
There are exceptions, and last season is an example when a school-record 13-0 start ended four months later with a first-round loss in the NCAA Tournament to Middle Tennessee. But a schedule this season that also will see Duke and potentially Louisville is what Michigan State relishes, and this team — Izzo hopes — is no different.
“Some teams go out there and are beating people by 30,” Izzo said. “Of course Kentucky beat us by (21), but teams are beating teams by 30 and getting a false feeling of where they are really at. I told my guys, ‘You’re gonna get exposed.’ But we look at two-thirds of that game and say, ‘OK, we played pretty good. We took a couple of punches in the mouth and hung in there.’ ”
Of course, improving on what has been an issue the first two games — namely turnovers and poor offensive execution — will be critical over the next few weeks.
“We’ve got to have more spacing, more ball movement,” freshman guard Cassius Winston said. “There was a lot of one-on-one. We can’t win games like that. We’ve got a lot of plays to get guys shots so we’ve got to trust the system, run the offense and knock down shots.”
Izzo was giving his players a bit of a pass after traveling across five times zones in a short period, but Kansas did the same thing and beat No. 1 Duke in the second game of the Classic.
And it’s not like the players were accepting it, either.
“Not for me and I don’t think for the other guys, either,” Bridges said when asked if the travel had an effect. “That’s not an excuse. We still didn’t take care of the ball and we can’t do that.”
Michigan State gets a chance to get back on track as it hosts Mississippi Valley State on Friday and Florida Gulf Coast on Sunday. Then the Spartans head to the Bahamas next week for the Battle 4 Atlantis.
It’s all part of a process Izzo had used since he took over 22 seasons ago. His team hasn’t started 0-2 since 2011-12, but that team won a share of the Big Ten championship, earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and reached the Sweet 16.
Only time will tell if the same sort of results are in store for this team.
“I still like what we do,” Izzo said. “It ain’t broke so why fix it? It’s worked for us.
“Our goal is to be good at the end of the year. Last year was an anomaly when we were 13-0 to start the season. I don’t think I’ve ever not lost two, three, four games, sometimes five or six in the nonconference and still went to a Final Four. I don’t care, I just care how we played (Tuesday) and we didn’t play well.”