By Larry Lage, AP Sports Writer
EAST LANSING (AP) – Michigan State is expected to have one of college basketball’s best teams this season, and Tom Izzo is embracing the hype.
“I’m excited about it,” the coach said Friday before the first practice of his 19th season.
The Spartans are without one player, center Derrick Nix, from last season’s squad that won 27 games, finished second in the Big Ten and advanced to the NCAA tournament’s round of 16.
“I think we deserve to be a highly ranked team,” Izzo said. “But I think there are a lot of other teams that do, too.
“Hopefully, we can live up to those expectations.”
It’s a much earlier start for practice for Michigan State than last season, because of a new NCAA rule.
“This is a different experience, this is strange,” Izzo said. “We’re starting 21 days earlier than we did last year. I think there’s pluses to it.
“I was a fan of it because I think it gives us a chance that we don’t have to get our players going and just kill them in the first week or two. … It is almost an NBA season now, just not as many games.”
Sophomore guard Denzel Valentine didn’t participate because of a hand infection.
“We don’t know if he got a spider bite or what, but his hand swelled up,” Izzo said.
Sophomore guard Gary Harris was limited because of a sprained ankle. Last year, he was slowed by shoulder and back injuries.
“It’s so early in the year, I think he’s a week away from doing anything physical,” Izzo said.
The rest of the Spartans were put through a relatively difficult workout. And when Izzo wanted to give his players an extra push, he called on the hundreds of students, who are camping out for tickets, to cheer and jeer them as needed.
Michigan State opens the regular season Nov. 8 against McNeese State, four days before playing Kentucky, another team expected to be ranked high. The Spartans also will play North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Texas before Big Ten play.
While Izzo is fired up about his talented and experienced roster, he isn’t sure who his leaders will be this season.
“We just actually met for an hour about it,” Izzo said before practice.
None of the four returning starters — Adreian Payne, Keith Appling, Branden Dawson or Harris — is considered a natural leader, but Izzo wants at least one of them to become more vocal.
“I’m not into leading by example at all,” Izzo said. “Cop out. Hate it. Despise it.”
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