Michigan State basketball hopes to escape shadow of Michigan's mighty season start
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The Big Ten standings show Michigan State in first place, the Spartans have won nine of their past 10 and are off to the third-best start of Coach Tom Izzo's legendary tenure.
And yet, Michigan State has found itself in shadows of another program just 65 miles away.
"It's like everyone has been shooting for them,'' Spartans' junior point guard Keith Appling said following a 78-65 victory at Purdue on Saturday night. "We've been flying under the radar.''
That might not be the case on Tuesday night, when No. 12 Michigan State (20-4, 9-2 Big Ten) tangles with rival Michigan (21-3, 8-3) at 9.m. at Breslin Center in an ESPN-televised game.
The Wolverines, ranked No. 3 but on the verge of the No. 1 ranking, dropped a 65-62 overtime decision at Wisconsin (17-7, 8-3) on Saturday, their second loss in their past three games.
Both Michigan and Michigan State will surely see their rankings adjusted when the polls come out on Monday. No matter what the numbers, the Spartans will bring an underdog mentality into the contest after seeing U of M ranked ahead of them throughout this season.
"That's definitely kept us humble as a team,'' said Branden Dawson, who scored a career-high 20 points in the victory over the Boilermakers (12-12, 5-6).
"People were texting us and calling us before this game saying if we get a win, we're No. 1 (in the Big Ten),'' Dawson said. "We just wanted to get a road win.''
Michigan State senior captain Derrick Nix said a key for the Spartans this season has been keeping their approach as businesslike as possible.
"We're a pretty humble team, and we don't really get into the rankings,'' Nix said. "It (Michigan) is going to be a big game, and it's our rivalry game, but we just need to come out and play.
"It's just another Big Ten game.''
Freshman Gary Harris said he's not sure what to think about Tuesday night's big stage, his first contest against the Wolverines.
"I'm about to get acclimated to it pretty soon,'' Harris said with a smile. "It will be a big game.''