Virginia Tech-Michigan St. Preview
If Tom Izzo had his way, Michigan State wouldn't be ranked No. 1.
Virginia Tech might grant him his wish, considering the Hokies' track record against top-ranked teams.
The Spartans will travel to Brooklyn to meet Virginia Tech on Friday night in a Coaches vs. Cancer Classic semifinal. The winner will play Oklahoma or Seton Hall in Saturday's championship game.
An impressive victory over preseason No. 1 Kentucky on Nov. 12 earned Michigan State (4-0) immediate praise from pundits around the country. But the Spartans barely scraped by Columbia three nights later, prompting Izzo to admit he hoped another school would jump them for the top spot, ultimately a futile plea.
Michigan State's first game as No. 1 in 13 seasons wasn't overly impressive either, defeating Portland 82-67 on Monday.
"I think it will be good for us in the end," Izzo said. "Nobody has to worry about us peaking in November."
The Spartans struggled in the first half, leading by just four against a team that went 11-21 in 2012-13. A lethargic start also had them in trouble against Columbia, which they trailed by four at halftime before pulling out a 62-53 victory.
"The big thing was our energy level," point guard Keith Appling said Monday after matching a career high with 25 points. "That's where we were lacking in the first half. Once we picked that up, everything was good."
After an 0-for-7 performance against Columbia, Michigan State hit 13 of 30 3-point attempts versus Portland. Appling hit all five of his tries from long distance after scoring only three points in 35 minutes against the Lions.
The senior also had seven assists and is averaging 6.3 along with 15.3 points while shooting a career-best 52.6 percent from the field.
"That was one of the greatest point guard performances in many, many, many years when you look at what he shot and the decisions he made," Izzo said. "He was worth the price of admission."
With another slow start, Michigan State may not see as forgiving a result against Virginia Tech (3-1). The Hokies are 4-7 all-time against top-ranked teams, including three wins in their last five matchups.
After a stunning 64-63 loss to South Carolina Upstate to open the season, they have settled in with three straight victories, including a 105-92 win over VMI on Monday.
Jarell Eddie scored 21 points and hit all five of his 3-point attempts to help the Hokies top the century mark for the first time in nearly three years.
"That opens it up for the rest of the guys," coach James Johnson told the school's official website regarding Eddie's shooting. "A couple of drives to the basket, if we drove it to Eddie's side, (VMI) didn't want to leave him open and we were able to finish at the basket. When Eddie plays like that, he helps everyone on the floor out."
Eddie is averaging a team-leading 16.5 points for Virginia Tech, which is 19-14 all-time against Big Ten foes entering its first meeting with Michigan State.
The Hokies should also be more potent with junior forward C.J. Barksdale, who had 16 points after serving a three-game suspension for a violation of team rules.
The Spartans have lost three of their last five regular-season games on neutral courts against unranked teams.