SOUTH BEND, Ind. — During the preseason, when Head Coach Tom Izzo stepped up to the podium at MSU's on-campus media day, he said the team might go 1-7 in the non-conference season.
Over a month later and Michigan State men’s basketball has surpassed expectations, defeating then-No. 4 Kentucky in the Champions Classic in double overtime, followed by a close win over Villanova and then two victories against Oregon and Portland in the Phil Knight Invitational.
MSU’s 5-3 non-conference run was unexpected, yet so was its 70-52 loss to the unranked Fighting Irish on Wednesday night.
What changed since MSU’s 2-1 weekend in Portland that resulted in Wednesday’s substantial loss?
Spectators may say the score could be excused by exhaustion from the month of November that represents MSU’s daunting non-conference schedule.
Izzo said he will take the heat of the schedule but doesn’t think this is a good enough excuse for what his team presented in South Bend.
“I think they smashed us in the mouth; they deserved what they got,” Izzo said. “They played harder than we did.”
With so many different opponents comes varying styles of play. For MSU, this can become more mentally exhausting than physically exhausting.
Following the loss, Izzo said there are two types of people, the ones that are mad MSU scheduled what it did, and the ones who want to make excuses for what comes from it.
Regardless of where people stand on the schedule, one thing's for certain, and it's that Notre Dame was the stronger team in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Notre Dame went 27-54 in field goals and 11-26 from beyond the arc. The Fighting Irish outrebounded the Spartans with 30 total.
MSU failed to shut down Notre Dame’s offense, along with graduate student forward Cormac Ryan, who played all 40 minutes and scored a team-high of 23 points.
Alongside their opponents' impressive performance, Izzo attributed MSU’s poor game execution to the lack of practice time available.
“In fairness to our guys, we’ve had zero practice time in the last week," Izzo said. “Zero, because of the travel.”
MSU returned from the Phil Knight Invitational on a red eye to one day of practice prior to hitting the road for another away game in South Bend.
MSU will have more wiggle room to practice before jumping into conference play against Northwestern on Sunday night.
Izzo said his guys didn’t guard well, and that they haven’t since the loss of sophomore guard Jaden Akins and senior forward Malik Hall to injury prior to the Phil Knight Invitational.
It was in question before the game on Wednesday night whether Akins would take the floor or not. Izzo said it was dependent on whether he could show that he was able to practice four straight days beforehand.
“He just couldn’t practice for four days because we didn’t have four days,” Izzo said
Izzo remains uncertain on whether Akins will return for Sunday’s game, or wait it out a little longer.
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While MSU closes up its 2022-23 non conference run, it’s still just one month of the season.
If Izzo pushed anything in the preseason, it’s that these eight games would be the best preparation the team can get leading into Big Ten matchups.
“This team has done some incredible things," Izzo said. "If we would have won tinight I said to myself and my staff it would be one of the greatest starts in my 28 year career. I thought 6-2 would've been a phenomenal start under the circumstance of injuries, team and the schedule we play. 5-3 I'm not quite as excited about."
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