NCAA BK

No. 8 Mich St ready for Big Ten tourney

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EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP)

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo likes to say his team has seen it all by this point of the season.

The eighth-ranked Spartans (24-7, 13-5 Big Ten) have played the fourth-strongest schedule in the country according to the latest RPI rankings, including wins over seventh-ranked Kansas, sixth-ranked Michigan and No. 10 Ohio State.

The Spartans also played at ninth-ranked Miami in November and finished tied for second in the Big Ten, which currently boasts four teams ranked in the top 10. Izzo said Tuesday that although this team has been through a physical and mental ringer this season, past experience should bode well for the Spartans this week at the Big Ten tournament and beyond.

''I guess, like probably all coaches, you worry about how many times you can go to the well,'' Izzo said. ''I think on the other side of it, it's still going to benefit you that you can sit in a locker room before a game or talk in a huddle that, you've played teams like this, you've played teams as good as this whoever you face. So I still think the positives outweigh the negatives.''

The Spartans are the tournament three seed following back-to-back home wins over No. 22 Wisconsin and Northwestern to finish the season. It will face the winner of Thursday's Iowa-Northwestern game on Friday night at the United Center.

The Spartans played each team just once this season, winning at Iowa, 62-59 in January. The Hawkeyes have improved after a disappointing start and finished the season winning six of eight conference games.

''They have played awfully well in their last eight games and won as many as anyone else in conference,'' Izzo said of Iowa. ''I think we could be facing one of the hotter teams in the league and we could be facing a team we just played. Either way, I guess we are ready to go.''

The Spartans managed to avoid an upset in conference play with all five Big Ten losses coming against teams that were ranked at the time. In fact, the Spartans lost just two games to then-unranked opponents (Connecticut and Miami).

''It just shows our mental toughness, how we were able to show up for every game,'' junior forward Adreian Payne said.

The Spartans were upset at Northwestern last year on their way to a share of the conference championship, and even the 1999-2000 NCAA championship team suffered an ugly loss at Wright State.

''Nobody thinks they're better than they are,'' Izzo said. ''Cockiness sometimes comes into play on teams, complacency comes in. We haven't always played great but I don't think it's a complacent, arrogant, cocky way where we think we're better than somebody. That, now that I think about it, might be the best thing that we have going for us.''

Junior point guard Keith Appling leads the Spartans with 13.5 points per game and attributed the lack of a letdown game to team-wide focus. Considering the Spartans' rugged schedule and the lack of any one dominant team across the country, Appling said he likes the team's chances entering the NCAA tournament.

''There's no one out there that's head and shoulders about the rest. It's fair game,'' Appling said. ''It's up for grabs and anyone can win it. I feel like the team that's toughest is gonna come out on top.''

Tagged: Northwestern, Iowa, Michigan State, Keith Appling

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