EAST LANSING — Rutgers hasn’t made it easy on the Spartans in their last four games and MSU knows it.
“Steve (Pikiell) has been a guy I’ve developed a good friendship with because I got so much respect for how hard his teams play. This is a pretty good Rutgers team,” said Izzo during the post-game.
After winning the first four meetings by at least 20 points when the Scarlett Knights joined the Big Ten, the last four games in the series have been decided by nine points, including an overtime win back in 2017.
Tonight was no different, and neither was the outcome.
The Spartans continued to struggle in different areas throughout the night. In the first half, they shot 35.5% from the field and 27.3% from deep. They turned the ball over six times, four of them by Cassius Winston.
“Our keys for the game were not to turn the ball over and other than Cash, actually, in the first half I thought we did a hell of a job of that,” said Izzo. “We had 12 for the game, but they were putting pressure on us the whole game.”
Very uncharacteristic of Michigan State’s star point guard, but then again it feels as though this team is still finding themselves.
This isn’t the team that was ranked No. 1 in the preseason AP Top 25 poll. However, they do look like a typical Izzo coached squad in the middle of December.
Don’t get me wrong, MSU has a long way to go. Even Izzo pointed that out tonight — but if there’s a time to hit the panic button, now is not it.
This team will mesh and come together.
They will win games.
They will compete for another Big Ten Championship and beyond. The pieces are there, but it takes time. Is that frustrating for fans to hear because of the expectations placed on this season? Absolutely. But have fans seen this before?
Will it work this year? I have no idea.
Izzo has had great teams get knocked out early. He’s had decent teams go far and make a Final Four run. He has the ability to surprise fans and so do his teams.
My point is we don't know who this Michigan State team is yet, and it's okay to sit back and enjoy the ride.