While coach Tom Izzo would like to see any other school atop the rankings, Michigan State is No. 1 for the first time in nearly 13 years.
Though they’ve ascended to the top spot in the poll, the Spartans were hardly at their best following a win over the previous No. 1 team, and they’ll try to atone for that lackluster performance Monday night against Portland.
Michigan State (3-0) hadn’t been No. 1 since Jan. 1, 2001 – a few months after winning the most recent of its two NCAA titles. The Spartans held on for a 78-74 win over Kentucky on Tuesday, but they then appeared to bask in the victory a little too much.
Michigan State needed Adreian Payne’s career-high 26 points and 11 rebounds to avoid a shocking upset to Columbia in their Coaches vs. Cancer Classic opener Friday, winning 62-53 and receiving 51 of 70 first-place votes in the Top 25.
The poor effort against the Lions left Izzo lamenting the forthcoming No. 1 ranking. Michigan State trailed by seven early in the second half and rallied to tie with 6:08 to go.
“We’ve just got to hope now that (No. 2) Kansas blows somebody out so they move them ahead of us,” Izzo said. “We proved tonight we’re not ready to handle any kind of success, and that disappoints me.
“We haven’t proven enough to be considered a great team,” he added. “We’re a doggone good team with a long, long way to go.”
Michigan State will try to improve against Portland, which will face its first top-ranked opponent since a 104-62 loss at Duke on Nov. 25, 2001. The Pilots (1-1) have also dropped 11 in a row against Top 25 teams by an average of 21.8 points.
They are coming off a 79-73 loss at Oregon State on Wednesday. Portland rallied from a 12-point deficit in the first half to tie it at 59 with 7:50 to go before allowing the Beavers to pull away.
“We battled back, tied it up and then turned it over twice for layups,” coach Eric Reveno said.
Junior guard Bobby Sharp had a team-best 18 points and five 3-pointers off the bench, but leading scorers Ryan Nicholas and Kevin Bailey had subpar shooting nights. The two players, each averaging 20.5 points, combined to go 9 of 26 and score 26.
Michigan State won 74-60 in its only matchup with Portland on Dec. 29, 1961. The Spartans will continue play in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic on Friday in Brooklyn, N.Y., against Virginia Tech.