MSU prepares for road test vs. U-M

While most students are counting the minutes until spring break, 14 students have gotten an early jump on the time off.

The members of the No. 9 MSU men’s basketball team (22-6 overall, 11-4 Big Ten) began their break early, benefitting from a rare week without a game as they prepare to face No. 4 Michigan (23-5, 10-5) in Ann Arbor on Sunday (4 p.m., CBS).

They took part in unusual activities, including time off Tuesday, bowling Thursday and watching the occasional basketball game together.

Justin Wan / The State News

One of those games included watching their upcoming opponent, the Wolverines, lose to Penn State on Wednesday.

It was a result several players said was shocking, considering the Nittany Lions had lost 18 consecutive Big Ten games, and paired with No. 1 Indiana falling earlier in the week, sent another message about life in the Big Ten.

“Anyone can be beat,” senior center Derrick Nix said. “It shows you the toughness of this conference.”

The Spartans appeared to be out of the Big Ten race after consecutive losses last week for the first time all season.

But this week’s results have given MSU a new life, one they’re looking to capitalize on.

“It’s a pretty big opportunity. It gives us the chance to get back in the hunt for a Big Ten championship,” junior guard Keith Appling said. “It’s a long season, a lot of good teams in this conference, so you never know what can happen.”

The week off has been beneficial as MSU prepares for the homestretch. Following Sunday’s tilt with the Wolverines, there’s only one week left in the regular season.

“It’s definitely important because it can get guys’ mindset right, mentally focus in, and guys can come in and watch more film,” sophomore guard/forward Branden Dawson said. “Coach (Izzo) said while we’re on break, we’re going to work on us and our offense, we’re going to watch film, go bowling, just have a little fun in between.”

In his weekly press conference Tuesday, Tom Izzo said he hoped the team could use this week to improve its ball-screen defense, free throw shooting and out of bounds plays. More than anything, the Spartans’ head coach felt his team needed to work on the little things.

“It’s going to be a good week for us,” Izzo said. “We are going to have some time to really work on some things and hopefully dial it down and dial it up at the end of the week.”

Yet the challenge of facing an archrival, determined to atone for a 75-52 blowout from the teams’ first meeting two weeks ago, will be daunting.

Many players agreed they don’t expect as lopsided a result this time around, since the Wolverines will be playing in front of their home crowd and U-M guard Tim Hardaway Jr. shooting 1-for-11 again is unlikely.

“Michigan’s a pretty good team and I don’t think they have lost a game at home this year yet,” Appling said. “So of course it’s going to be a very competitive game. We’re just going to have to stay focused for 40 minutes and hopefully we can pull it off.”

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