Monday marks the last week of Michigan State men's basketball's 2022-23 regular season. The Spartans, initially scheduled for 20 conference matchups, will conclude the season having played 19 and without facing the team at the bottom of the Big Ten, Minnesota.
On Monday afternoon, the Big Ten announced that the matchup originally slated for Feb. 15, but postponed due to a mass shooting on MSU’s campus, would not be rescheduled.
“Maybe I blame the Big Ten office on what I got, I did not think it was very aggressively handled early,” MSU head men's basketball coach Tom Izzo said. “As I look back, it might have been one of those things because of TV because of all the stuff, there’s just nothing that could be done.”
Izzo mentioned that Minnesota head men's basketball coach Ben Johnson was eager to do anything he could to play and that Rutgers head men's basketball coach Steve Pikiell would have helped out too if possible, as Rutgers travels to Minneapolis for their second contest of the season with the Golden Gophers Thursday.
“Just another good thorn in my side to motivate me to work harder,” Izzo said.
Izzo recounted Saturday's loss as 'one of the biggest and toughest losses' in his MSU career and yet the best performance his team's put on since the departure of former point guard Cassius Winston in 2020, that is until the final few minutes.
“They were mental mistakes more than physical mistakes,” Izzo said. ”We just kind of lost our minds there for a stretch.”
Despite the gut wrenching loss on Saturday that Izzo referred to as one of his worst at MSU, senior guard Tyson Walker had one of his best personal performances from glancing at the stat sheet.
During his 42 minutes on the floor, Walker notched a season-high 31 points and shot 11-15 from the field. To accompany his points, Walker contributed in other realms of the game as he collected four rebounds, five assists and a steal.
“I think he’s improved enormously in a year and a half and it couldn’t come at a better time,” Izzo said. “He’s been so much fun to coach. He doesn’t make many mistakes and when he does he takes the blame.”
If the Spartans want to make a run in March, the consistency from Walker is critical especially alongside starting junior point guard A.J. Hoggard in the backcourt.
The veteran guards will need to polish off their guard play with the lack of depth present on the roster.
“We’re good enough to play anyone in the league and anybody maybe in the country,” Izzo said. “And yet we proved we don’t have a great margin for error. Mistakes for us get compounded because we don’t have dominant talent and we gotta live with that.”
The Spartans will end their road stretch on Tuesday at Nebraska for their opponent’s senior day, prior to returning to Breslin to wrap up the regular season against the Buckeyes on March 4.
Michigan State knocked off the Cornhuskers on Jan. 3 by a score of 74-56 to open up 2023 conference play. While discussing the upcoming matchup, Izzo described Nebraska as the 'hottest team in the league'.
“Nebraska's been playing the best basketball in Fred’s (Hoiberg) era there,” Izzo said.
The Cornhuskers have overcome adversity with injuries and appear stronger than the last time the two met at the Breslin Center.
Tuesday’s late night tip is scheduled for 9 p.m. and the game will be televised on Big Ten Network.
“If we play as well as we played against Iowa and we correct the last minute and a half, this teams gonna do what I said they’re gonna do and make a run,” Izzo said.
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