Michigan State players talk about the recent rough stretch and what needs to change for the team to be at its best. Matt Charboneau, Detroit News
East Lansing — “Everything is not all peaches and roses right now.”
That quote hasn’t been trademarked yet by Cassius Winston, but that’s how the sophomore guard described things around Michigan State’s practices these days.
Coming off a seven-day stretch that included two double-digit losses — one on the road to Ohio State and then at home to Michigan— and an overtime win against Rutgers, the Spartans have a bit of a break before getting back on the court Friday at home against Indiana.
So, instead of licking their wounds, they’re getting after it.
“We’re fighting out of the dog house and grinding and it’s good for us,” Winston said, dripping with sweat after following Tuesday’s practice with an extra round of shooting drills. “We’re getting back to those roots, getting back to that summer grind where we go out there with something to prove and now we’ve got that chip back on our shoulder.”
It’s easy for that chip to reappear for a team that, before the loss to Ohio State, was cruising along with nary a naysayer.
That changed quickly in the last week and now the second-guessing has begun for the Spartans (16-3, 4-2 Big Ten) as they attempt to remain in the thick of the Big Ten race even though they sit two games out of the top spot with Michigan and Ohio State holding tiebreakers.
But that’s not all bad with more than half of the conference season left to play.
“That’s what great teams do, they play through adversity,” sophomore Miles Bridges said. “They get better through adversity. Other teams, they go down.”
How does Michigan State play through it? That was the question at practice on Tuesday.
There are specific areas the Spartans need to get better — limiting turnovers, defending ball screens and getting the fast break going.
In other words — the staples of the program.
“Just getting back to our roots,” Winston said. “It’s the things you do to be a Spartan that work here. It’s worked for the program for many years and we kind of fell away from that — rebounding, getting out on the break, things that make Michigan State basketball. We’ve got to get back to those things.”
No. 9 Michigan State will have plenty of opportunity over the next few weeks to battle through that adversity and get back to those roots.
The schedule sets up well. After Friday’s matchup with Indiana, Michigan State hits the road to play Illinois, which hasn’t won a Big Ten game, then closes the month at home against Wisconsin, at Maryland and home against Penn State.
Trips to Indiana and Iowa follow before Purdue comes to the Breslin Center on Feb. 10. By then, the Spartans expect they’ll look much more like the team that won 14 straight. In the meantime, they know what’s coming.
“I think one thing we gotta figure out with this team is, people are gonna play their best games against us,” Izzo said. “Whether we’re ready for that or not, too young for it, it seems to be a little bit of a problem. We’ve tried to talk to them about that.
“It was a tough stretch. A long season, we still got a long ways to go. I don’t think anybody’s lost any belief in themselves. Our goals are still in front of us, they’re still the same. This week gives us a bit of a chance to maybe look at those films and spend some time, spend a little bit more time on us. And that’s what we tried to do Sunday and Monday.”
The confidence hasn’t waned with the Spartans. They understand the expectations are high, but as Izzo pointed out, it’s the same for plenty of other teams.
“Am I panicked over it? No, I’m not,” he said. “I think it’s dealing with the pressures that everybody’s got to deal with, and how you handle those things. I thought we were handling them pretty well. As I look at it (now) I don’t think we handled it very well, but you never get to see the other team. How are they feeling about coming in and playing you? … So we’re gonna make progress on it, and we’re gonna get better at it.”
And it’s starting with the players on the court.
“You’ve got to look yourself in the mirror,” Winston said. “It’s self-check time. Everybody has got to do something to get better for this team and put it all together. It’s not a time to fall way from each other. This is a time to rally together and get back going, get back rolling.”