No. 3 Michigan State starts Big Ten play vs. Nebraska

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo isn’t thrilled about starting the conference schedule so early in the season.

The No. 3 Spartans go from beating two top 10 teams to playing two straight Big Ten games, starting with a home date against Nebraska on Sunday. The Spartans face Rutgers on the road Tuesday before returning to nonconference action the remainder of the month.

The change was necessitated by the conference holding its tournament a week earlier than usual so it can be played at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

“My thoughts? Why? That’s my thoughts,” Izzo said.

“Why are we doing this? I understand why. It’s kind of a one-year thing. It wouldn’t be bad if we had done this two years out, so that we could have made the rest of our schedule. That’s the only thing that I’m a little upset about.”

Izzo doesn’t have many complaints about his team’s defense, which held No. 9 North Carolina to 45 points on Sunday and No. 5 Notre Dame to 63 on Thursday. The Spartans (6-1) led by as much as 22 in the first half of their dominating 81-63 victory over the Irish in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we are doing a better job defensively and we’re causing some problems,” Izzo said.

“I think offensively we’re still not executing like I think we need to, could or should. We have a little more balance, inside-outside balance. The hardest part of this year has been when they changed and put these Big Ten games in and it really changed our schedule. We didn’t get many breaks, where usually you can play a (big) game and then work on yourself.”

The Spartans have cruised along even though their top player, sophomore forward Miles Bridges, is still not 100 percent due to an ankle sprain. He scored 14 points against the Irish.

Bridges averaged 18 points as the Spartans defeated the Cornhuskers in both meetings last season.

“Nothing’s going to come easy for us right now. I’m trying to survive until Tuesday,” Izzo said. “Then we get a little break. Hopefully a little practice time. A little time off. A little time to heal.”

The trip to East Lansing begins a rugged stretch for the Huskers (6-2), who face Minnesota, Creighton and Kansas in their next three games.

“Who wouldn’t want to play against four of the best programs in the country?” guard Evan Taylor said. “It’s going to be hard, but it’s an opportunity to show the world what Nebraska basketball is and to get better. I’m excited, and I know our guys are excited and we hope for the best.”

Junior swingman James Palmer Jr. and junior forward Isaac Copeland scored 15 points apiece as Nebraska won its ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup over Boston College, 71-62 on Wednesday.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” Huskers coach Tim Miles said. “It’s nice to beat a Power Five school. It’s our first we beat this year. I think it’s the only one we’ve played. We have about four more coming that will get our attention, too.”

Palmer leads a balanced attack at 14.3 points per game; three others average double digits. Taylor is close behind at 9.8 ppg.