No. 6 Michigan State wary of visit to Penn State
At Michigan State, the players and coaching staff talk about it all the time - there are no easy games in the Big Ten.
The past couple of weeks have shown as much. Rutgers beat Ohio State and Wisconsin, nearly invincible in Madison, lost twice at home. Other teams have been pushed to the limit, including unbeaten Michigan while Indiana, once unbeaten, has lost two straight conference games.
The No. 6 Spartans, on the other hand, have done well avoiding the untimely loss.
However, they'll be on high alert heading to Penn State for a 4:30 p.m. tip on Sunday as the Nittany Lions were within a point of Nebraska on Thursday in the final minutes before coming up four points short.
"It's the Big Ten and any team can lose on any given night," Michigan State guard Cassius Winston said. "You gotta keep that in your mind as you move forward."
Penn State (7-9, 0-5 Big Ten) offers an interesting challenge for the Spartans. Last season's NIT champions entered the year with hopes of a top-half finish in the Big Ten and a spot in the NCAA Tournament. And, an early season win over Virginia Tech seemed to indicate the Nittany Lions were on that path.
However, they've won just three games since and are still looking for their first conference win despite playing Nebraska and Michigan close in their last two road games. It has been enough to grab Michigan State's attention.
"What Penn State brings is an opportunity to see if we can go against a team that doesn't have as good of a record and yet is well-coached," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "I'm not confused by the way basketball is but there's been upsets all over and bigger upsets than Penn State beating Michigan State. So, I'm trying to take a business-like approach and see if we can get our team to play at level consistent with playing well no matter who we play."
Michigan State (14-2, 5-0) will have to do so without guard Joshua Langford for the fourth straight game as the junior continues to sit out with an ankle injury. His return remains uncertain but Izzo expects a clearer picture by next week.
"He got a little treatment, they said it will be a week or so and then they'll take the boot off and we'll have a better update I'd say by next Monday, Tuesday," Izzo said.
Langford's absence is expected, but he might not be the only player the Spartans are without.
Junior Kyle Ahrens has started the last three games in Langford's absence, but he's been battling a bad back that Izzo believes Ahrens hurt on a dunk in last week's win at Ohio State and aggravated after a fall in the Purdue game.
"That's something I'll keep an eye on because that would be two people at a similar position," Izzo said.
The Nittany Lions will be counting on a similar offensive performance from earlier in the week at Nebraska when four players scored in double figures, led by 20 points from Josh Reaves. It was a dramatic shift from their previous game, a 19-point loss at home to Wisconsin.
"I thought my team really competed, they played hard, that's what I wanted to see after (Wisconsin)," Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. "That was not Penn State basketball. We worked really hard in practice and that showed. I was really proud of the way we competed, and our guys were dialed in. I thought we got better, even in the loss, we got better."
--Field Level Media