Tennessee Tech-Michigan St. Preview
Michigan State is sure to slip in the AP poll after suffering its first loss, but coach Tom Izzo knows each tough regular-season game prepares his team for the NCAA tournament.
With another big challenge looming against the nation's No. 1 team, the second-ranked Spartans look for their 50th consecutive non-conference home victory when they meet Tennessee Tech on Sunday night.
Michigan State (4-1) finished third in the Maui Invitational with a 76-71 victory over No. 13 Washington on Wednesday. The Spartans struggled with Division II Chaminade last Monday before winning 82-74, then lost Tuesday to eventual tournament champion Connecticut 70-67.
That defeat surely erased the possibility of a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup Wednesday, when the Spartans travel to Cameron Indoor Stadium to face top-ranked Duke.
A difficult non-conference schedule is a staple of Izzo-coached teams, and he said the competition in Maui helped provide Michigan State with a glimpse of what lies ahead as it shoots for a third consecutive Final Four appearance.
"We did show some character because it wasn't easy," Izzo said. "We had a tough loss (Tuesday) in a game we led down the stretch and thought we could have won. It's disappointing to not win the tournament, but make no mistake about it, there's about three teams here are I think are as good as we'll face all year."
Kalin Lucas seems to be up to the challenge. The senior guard and preseason Big Ten player of the year scored a career-high 29 points Wednesday, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range. Lucas left the game momentarily after Washington's Justin Holiday fell on his left knee during a scramble for a loose ball, but he returned to hit two late free throws to seal the victory.
"My knee's fine," said Lucas, averaging 18.0 points. "I really don't know what I did to it. It kind of hurt a little bit, the doctors looked at it, but I'm fine."
Draymond Green had 12 points and six rebounds for the Spartans, who shot 49.0 percent from the field after being held to season lows of 40.4 percent and 67 points versus UConn.
"It was good to come out and get a win like that, especially after the loss we took (Tuesday)," said Green, who came off the bench for a second straight game despite averaging 14.8 points and a team-high 9.6 boards.
The Spartans will receive more depth up front with the return of sophomore center Derrick Nix, who was not with the team to Maui for personal reasons. Nix started 16 games as a freshman but has played sparingly in two games off the bench this season.
Nix now hopes to help Michigan State extend its 49-game winning streak at the Breslin Center against non-conference foes, dating to a 72-50 defeat to Duke on Dec. 3, 2003.
The Golden Eagles (0-2) haven't played in more than a week after Tuesday's game against Appalachian State was canceled due to a miscommunication in supplying referees. Tennessee Tech lost 73-60 at East Tennessee State on Nov. 20.
Alfred Jones is scoring a team-high 10.5 points per game and Terrell Barnes is averaging 10.0 rebounds.
"Playing in East Lansing is a great opportunity for our guys," coach Mike Sutton told the Golden Eagles' official website. "Going up against a team that has a chance to go very deep in the NCAA tournament gives us a chance to learn from some of the best players in college basketball right now."
The Spartans and Golden Eagles last met Dec. 28, 2005, when Michigan State won 80-63.