Oakland, Mich.-Michigan St. Preview
Michigan State's grueling schedule may be catching up to it, but coach Tom Izzo refuses to make excuses for his team's less-than-stellar play.
It may not get much easier for the seventh-ranked Spartans against a tough mid-major opponent.
Michigan State seeks it 10th straight win over in-state rival Oakland on Saturday at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
Izzo ripped his team following a 72-58 loss to No. 8 Syracuse on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. Each loss for Michigan State (6-3) has come against opponents currently ranked in the top 10, including top-ranked Duke and No. 6 Connecticut. The Spartans are the only currently ranked team to play a true road game against another Top 25 opponent.
"I'm as disappointed in that performance (against Syracuse) as I've been in any since I've been at Michigan State," Izzo said. "It's been a long time since we were manhandled like this."
The Spartans were outrebounded 38-30, marking the fourth time in nine games they've lost the battle on the boards. Michigan State has led the nation in rebounding margin the past two seasons, but it hasn't been as physical with teams thus far.
Rather than penetrate the Orange's 3-2 zone defense, Michigan State settled for outside jumpers and couldn't contain Syracuse's inside offense. The Spartans were outscored 42-24 in the paint.
"We turned into a pretty-boy jump-shooting team instead of the blue-collar, fist-fighting team we should be," Izzo said.
Kalin Lucas, who is still recovering from offseason surgery on a torn Achilles' tendon, didn't practice in the days prior to the game and scored only eight points. Lucas also sat out the entire second half in a 74-39 win last Saturday against Bowling Green.
Draymond Green, who was the consensus Big Ten sixth man of the year in 2009-10 but started four of the first nine games this season, will resume his full-time role of coming off the bench against Oakland.
The Golden Grizzlies (5-4) are facing their third ranked Big Ten opponent, already having lost to then-No. 14 Purdue 82-67 on Nov. 21 and No. 16 Illinois 74-62 on Wednesday. The first seven-plus minutes against the Fighting Illini were accidentally played with a smaller women's ball.
Oakland led Illinois at halftime before wearing down in the second half in a game coach Greg Kampe said resembled the loss to the Boilermakers.
"We're really disappointed. We did the same thing at Purdue," Kampe said. "We got a lead and made a few mistakes and they got back in it."
Senior center and Summit League preseason player of the year Keith Benson was held to 11 points on 2-for-9 shooting. Benson leads the team with 18.2 points per game while ranking fourth in the nation with 30 blocked shots and ninth averaging 11.7 rebounds.
These teams are meeting for the fifth straight season and for the first time at The Palace since Michigan State's 82-66 win Dec. 27, 2008. The Spartans won 88-57 in East Lansing last season.
Oakland is 3-26 all-time against the Big Ten, going 0-9 versus Michigan State.