Tom Izzo has never shied away from putting Michigan State through tough tests in nonconference play, but a road-heavy portion of the initial slate has prompted Izzo to call himself the "dumbest scheduler in America."
He didn’t have the foresight to know he’d be so short-handed this early, though.
The 20th-ranked Spartans hope Branden Dawson will be fully recovered when they face Rider for the first time Thursday night in first-round action of the Orlando Classic.
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Six of Michigan State’s first eight games are outside of East Lansing. After barely surviving for a 64-59 victory at Navy on Nov. 14, the Spartans never led in an 81-71 loss to No. 4 Duke on Nov. 18 in Indianapolis.
Michigan State (3-1) swept a two-game homestand by routing Loyola of Chicago 87-52 on Friday and Santa Clara 79-52 on Monday, but it now heads to Orlando for three before facing Notre Dame in South Bend on Dec. 3.
It will finish a stretch of six games in 13 days when it hosts Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Dec. 6.
"I don’t know when injuries are going to happen and I don’t know when guys are going to get sick, so guys have to learn to play through fatigue," Izzo said.
Dawson, averaging 15.0 points and 8.0 rebounds, felt sick all day Monday and didn’t play. Marvin Clark Jr. started in Dawson’s place and scored 15 points.
Izzo isn’t sure if Dawson will be feeling better for this contest, and it would be another blow to the Spartans’ depth if he has to sit out again. Alvin Ellis is out with an ankle injury, and promising freshman Javon Bess has yet to make his debut because of a foot injury. Neither are expected back until around Christmas.
"I’m hoping (Dawson) will be back doing something and it’s the 24-hour bug and not the two-week bug," Izzo said.
"I don’t have a good feel for where we’re at yet, (but) there are some other teams that don’t have a clue where they’re at yet either."
What’s impressed Izzo, though, is how well the Spartans have shared the ball. They had 22 assists on 29 baskets against Santa Clara, as Travis Trice had eight to go along with a game-high 19 points.
Michigan State has recorded assists on 68.3 percent of its field goals to rank among the best in the nation.
"That ball is swinging around and that ball is moving," Izzo said. "We’re making extra passes and they’re all looking for people. We do as good of a job as anybody in the country."
If the Spartans get past Rider, they will face Marquette or Georgia Tech in the semifinals Friday with a potential showdown looming with No. 11 Kansas in Sunday’s championship game.
The Broncs (2-2) were routed by the Jayhawks 87-60 in non-bracketed play Monday as they shot a season-low 40.0 percent. Xavier Lundy came off the bench to score 15 points, but he was one of the only bright spots.
"We have another opportunity on Thursday to see if our guys will show up," coach Kevin Baggett said. "Hopefully guys will be disappointed with the way they played and will step up on Thursday. This is a good basketball team, we just didn’t play like it. This was certainly a teaching point for us."