By NOAH TRISTER/AP Sports Writer
EAST LANSING (AP) – After two tough losses in a row, Tom Izzo figured his Michigan State team would drop quite a bit in the polls.
Instead, the Spartans fell only five spots to No. 9. That helped Izzo gain some valuable perspective.
“I am not in any panic mode,” Izzo said. “We are going to play good teams and when you play good teams you are going to lose games. I would like to win them all, but we are not that kind of team yet. I am hoping the best basketball we’ve got is coming.”
Michigan State’s Big Ten title hopes took a hit when the Spartans lost to Indiana and Ohio State, but Izzo is taking the defeats almost in stride. Perhaps this late-season slip was simply an inevitable byproduct of playing in an unusually difficult league – and it’s not like Izzo hasn’t taken a team with some losses on a deep NCAA run before.
Two weeks ago, Michigan State looked resurgent after embarrassing rival Michigan 75-52 in East Lansing. For the Wolverines, that was the end of a stretch in which they faced Indiana, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State in succession, going 1-3.
Now the schedule is being unkind to the Spartans, and it’s Michigan State’s turn to struggle. After losing to Indiana and Ohio State, the Spartans will have a chance to regroup before playing at No. 4 Michigan on Sunday. After that, they host Wisconsin.
“It’s all so schedule driven as far as the streaks,” Izzo said. “Everybody in the Big Ten can play the same people but at different times.”
Indiana leads Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin by two games in the loss column, meaning the Hoosiers have the inside track to the league title. That won’t necessarily reduce the intensity this week – not with the big Michigan State-Michigan rematch on tap in Ann Arbor.
After routing the Wolverines two weeks ago, Izzo described his team’s performance as a “perfect storm.” But he’s not about to write it off as a fluke.
“Usually when you play a game like that you shoot 60-some percent and shoot uncharacteristic from the 3,” Izzo said Tuesday. “The only thing we did that was maybe more uncharacteristic is we did rebound the ball a little better than we have in some other games. The shooting we were not much different than our regular.”
The biggest question facing the Spartans is how to get leading scorer Keith Appling going again. The junior point guard has scored only nine points combined in the last two games, shooting 2 of 14 from the field. Counterpart Aaron Craft of Ohio State scored 21 points against the Spartans.
“As a team we didn’t guard as well,” Michigan State forward Adreian Payne said. “The main thing is that we have to play with more energy to win games.”
That’s no easy task during a season this grueling, and Izzo seems to understand that. He planned to meet with Appling.
“You don’t lose everything in two games, guys,” Izzo said. “It doesn’t happen that way. Even you guys were ready to canonize him for most of the Big Ten season. He has had two games where he played un-Keith Appling-like. I think that’s a tribute to him and how hard he plays 90 percent of the time.”
The pressure is now on for Michigan State to make the most of the extra time off before the Michigan game. Perhaps the most unusual thing about Izzo’s news conference Tuesday was the fact that he was hardly asked about his team’s next opponent. That’s how many other issues the Spartans have to resolve.
But as the game draws nearer, the focus will narrow.
“There’s motivation on both sides and we’re still playing for a lot too,” Izzo said. “I don’t think they’ve been out of the top eight all year, have they? We were a little more up and down. They’ve sustained excellence like Indiana all year long. So, no locker room talk, no stuff to put up, but it’s true. I can’t believe you didn’t ask me if I love Michigan, by the way. I love them.”
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