Michigan State faces quick turnaround before Michigan
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Apparently even Tom Izzo’s 60th birthday celebration can wait.
The focus now is on Michigan.
"It’s not a birthday today, guys. It’s a work day. I’ll have my birthday on Monday," said Izzo, who turned 60 on Friday. "We’ve got work to do for two days, and that’s all I’ve got my mind on right now."
The Michigan State coach hasn’t had much time to prepare for Sunday’s matchup with rival Michigan. The Spartans won 71-51 at Rutgers on Thursday, but that game was postponed from earlier in the week by the threat of a blizzard in New Jersey, leaving Michigan State with only two days off before hosting the Wolverines.
Nothing has come easy lately for Michigan State or Michigan. Wolverines standout Caris LeVert is out for the season with a foot injury and point guard Derrick Walton missed his team’s win over Nebraska on Tuesday with a toe problem.
The Spartans aren’t exactly rushing to extend sympathy.
"Yeah, we know about injuries. We know about that," said guard Travis Trice, who was nursing a rib injury.
Izzo was pleased with his team’s defense and rebounding against Rutgers, saying the Spartans got back to their roots. Michigan State held the Scarlet Knights to 17 points in the second half and 29-percent shooting for the game.
What may have been even more impressive was the offensive balance. Trice and guard Denzel Valentine combined to shoot 6 of 24 from the field, but the rest of the Spartans went 21 for 29.
Izzo said Valentine might be Michigan State’s best player, but he can still go through an occasional slump.
"He’s struggling with his shot. He knows it," Izzo said. "If you’re shot’s not there, you do so many other things and help us win. Sometimes if your shot’s not there and you let that affect the rest of your game, then you’ve got problems, and I think he’s done that a little bit, just with his body language. I think of all the guys, he’ll rise up. This is an important game for him."
Branden Dawson had 17 points and 11 rebounds against Rutgers. Dawson broke his hand last season and missed both regular-season matchups with Michigan, and the Spartans lost them both. He was back in time to help Michigan State to a 14-point win over the Wolverines in the championship game of the Big Ten tournament.
Michigan’s offense has slipped considerably this season, but Michigan State enters Sunday’s game shooting 39.5 percent from 3-point range, and the win over Rutgers was indicative of just how tough the Spartans can be when enough players are contributing. Cleveland State transfer Bryn Forbes led Michigan State with 18 points and went 4 of 6 from beyond the arc, and now he’s ready to play against Michigan for the first time with the Spartans.
"I know they had some battles," Forbes said. "I’m excited to actually be able to be in one."
Although neither team is ranked, Sunday’s game is still a big one with potential NCAA tournament implications, and given the nature of the Michigan State-Michigan matchup, Izzo should have no trouble motivating any newcomers to the rivalry.
"It’s a privilege to play in games like this, and it’s a privilege to watch them as a fan, it’s a privilege to coach in them," Izzo said. "I’m going to tell them to enjoy it — but make sure that they stay focused on what they’ve got to stay focused on."