Michigan State not taking NCAA bid for granted, braces for ‘big challenge’ from Maryland

The Spartans appeared to lock up a bid for the 23rd straight season…

Michigan State not taking NCAA bid for granted, braces for 'big challenge' from Maryland 1

Matt Charboneau
| The Detroit News

Michigan State not taking NCAA bid for granted, braces for 'big challenge' from Maryland 2

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MSU coach Tom Izzo looks ahead to the Big Ten tournament

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo discusses facing Maryland to open this season’s Big Ten tournament.

The Detroit News

Do a quick search for projected brackets out there, and it’s tough to find one that doesn’t include Michigan State as part of this season’s NCAA Tournament.

The Spartans appeared to lock up a bid for the 23rd straight season by beating Michigan on Sunday to cap a seven-game finish to the regular season that included victories over top-five foes Illinois and Ohio State, as well as two against Indiana.

But, nothing is ever certain until the field is announced, and if Michigan State wants to feel really good about its standing, getting a win over Maryland to open the Big Ten tournament would almost certainly achieve that.

“I don’t trust anything,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “That’s why I told my players, ‘I don’t want to put more pressure on you, but I don’t want you relaxing.’ Because the biggest key is — win, lose or draw and whether we move on or not — it’s the same model we’ve been sticking with for the last six games. It’s, can we get better each game? Can we take the last game some things we didn’t do right and can we get better at them?

“That’s kind of the way I’ve looked at it and approached it. … But I don’t want any letdowns and you’ve got to guard against it. But a couple extra days (off) I think helps in that way.”

The days off were hard to come by for Michigan State (15-11, 9-11 Big Ten), as it played its final seven games in 16 days.

Of course, one of those games was a trip to Maryland back on Feb. 28. The Spartans were in a three-game winning streak at that point and had beaten Illinois and Ohio State in a three-day span. When they arrived in College Park, the energy had been zapped.

Maryland took advantage, jumped out to an 11-0 lead and never truly relinquished control. Michigan State pulled within five in the second half, but the Terrapins pulled away for a 73-55 victory as a team that ranks 11th in the conference in offensive efficiency was 50% from 3-point range and went 23-for-24 at the free-throw line.

“They’ve got some bigs that aren’t real big but they can all shoot the ball,” Izzo said. “That is a problem for us. It seems like everybody on their team is 6-5 to 6-7 and just about everybody can shoot it.

“So it will be a big challenge. I’m looking forward to hopefully a little revenge, but maybe more importantly I think we’re playing a little better than when we went out there. We were playing OK, but we were going through a tough stretch and even then, I’m not sure we handled it right. So, hopefully we’ll do a better job now.”

As well as Maryland (15-12, 9-11) played in the first meeting, it’s safe to say Michigan State’s performance was its worst in that final stretch of seven games.

Aaron Henry was 4-for-16 while Joshua Langford was 3-for-13. In fact, there wasn’t much offense from anyone as the Spartans shot 33.3% form the field (19-for-57) and fired off 28 3-pointers, making only eight. Maryland’s defensive pressure frustrated the Spartans. forcing them into far too many 3-pointers and plenty of long 2-pointers, all low-percentage shots.

It all adds up to a tough matchup for Michigan State.

“They’re versatile and so many guys can go in so many different positions,” Henry said. “They have big men who can shoot and step out and put the ball on the floor, and not only do we have to be ready for it but we have to understand how to attack their defense. They just really compete. They play hard, they have a good motion offense and have a good feel for each other. They are a very connected team.”

They also might be a desperate team.

The win over Michigan State seemed like it locked up an NCAA Tournament spot for the Terrapins. However, they faltered down the stretch, losing their last two games to Northwestern and Penn State, blowing a 16-point second-half lead on Sunday to the Nittany Lions.

It has many believing Maryland needs to beat Michigan State to feel safe about its spot in the NCAA Tournament, though Terrapins coach Mark Turgeon is not among them.

“I think we’re in no matter what happens,” Turgeon said. “We’re in the best league in the country. We won nine games, beat four top-25 teams, beat a 1-seed and Purdue could end up being a 3 or a 4. Do I think we’ve done enough? Absolutely. But I’m not going to sit here and beg for it. I think we’re clearly in, but I’m not on the committee.”

In other words, Maryland would be wise to win, and that means the Terps will be up to get another win over the Spartans. Izzo understands that, but believes his team is as prepared as it can be.

“We have our hands full, but we’re ready to play it,” Izzo said. “I think we are battle-tested. We almost didn’t survive it, but we’ve survived it. Now we’ve got to move forward and rearrange our goals and have new expectations.”

No. 8 Maryland vs. No. 9 Michigan State


Tip-off: 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Lucas Oil Field, Indianapolis

TV/radio: Big Ten Network/WJR 760

Records: Maryland 15-12, 9-11 Big Ten; Michigan State 15-12, 9-11

Outlook: Maryland won the only meeting this season, 73-55, on Feb. 28. … Senior guard Eric Ayala leads the Terrapins in scoring at 14.6 points per game. … Senior guard Darryl Morsell was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. … Maryland is second in the league in scoring defense, allowing just 65.3 points per game. … MSU has played in five of the last eight Big Ten tournament championship games, winning four.


Twitter: @mattcharboneau

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