Ark.-Pine Bluff-Michigan St. Preview

After going 5-1 during a hectic portion of its schedule,

Michigan State will likely be challenged only once more before

beginning Big Ten play in nearly four weeks.

A matchup with Arkansas-Pine Bluff is not considered the

test.

The 19th-ranked Spartans can capture a 69th straight home win

over an unranked non-conference opponent Wednesday night against

the Golden Lions in the first meeting between the programs.

Michigan State (6-2) posted its most lopsided win of the season

in an 84-39 blowout of Nicholls State on Saturday, ending an

exhausting string in which it played six games in 15 days. The

schedule left little time for Tom Izzo to work with his team.

“We needed a game like this,” Izzo said. “This one-day prep

thing has been a joke.”

The schedule included a 67-59 road loss at Miami (Fla.) in last

week’s ACC-Big Ten Challenge, snapping a five-game winning streak

that included victories over then-No. 7 Kansas and a 6-1 Boise

State team.

“I told my staff on the bench, seeing (reserve guard Russell)

Byrd hit a shot and smile, sometimes you don’t get to do that when

you’re playing some of the teams we’re playing all the time and not

getting much break or much practice time,” Izzo said. “So the good

of playing a tough schedule a lot of times is the benefit is at the

end, the bad is sometimes guys never get some confidence.”

Even against a weak Nicholls State team, Saturday’s dominant

performance should help that confidence. The game was largely over

at halftime as the Spartans held the Colonels to five field goals

and forced 15 turnovers while taking a 37-13 lead. Michigan State

ended the half with a 27-4 run.

Keith Appling, who averages a team-best 16.1 points, scored a

game-high 13 and was 1 of 2 from beyond the arc. The junior guard

is shooting considerably better from long range this season,

hitting 42.9 percent of his 3-pointers compared to 25.0 percent a

year ago.

He is also leading his team with 4.4 assists per contest.

“I’m not an easy guy to please,” Izzo said. “But I’m really

excited for him and proud of him for what he’s doing right now in

an incredible way.”

The Golden Lions (1-6) are struggling through their own brutal

schedule, playing the eighth of 12 straight games away from home to

start the season. The latest stop was an 80-59 loss at Oregon on

Saturday, their third straight game against a Pac-12 opponent.

Senior guard Lazabian Jackson, who averages a team-high 12.1

points, was 4 of 13 from the floor against the Ducks to finish with

10 points.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff doesn’t appear to match up well inside with

the Spartans, who own a plus-10.3 rebounding margin and outscore

their opponents by an average of 14.0 in the paint. The Golden

Lions, losers of 40 straight non-conference road games, are

outrebounded by an average of 10.0 per game – one of the worst

marks in the country.

A Dec. 22 home meeting with Texas appears to be the Spartans’

only remaining challenge before opening conference play on Dec. 31

against No. 14 Minnesota.

“We get something different now – we’ll actually get two days to

practice for our next two games, and that will seem like an

eternity for this team,” Izzo said. “But I think we can at least

say we took a small step forward with a lot of steps to go, but a

small step forward and it was good for us.”