No. 6 Michigan State, No. 13 Maryland clash in key Big Ten game
(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Tom Izzo was a happy guy on Thursday night.
His sixth-ranked Michigan State team had just earned a tough road win over Nebraska, its fourth straight away from home and 11th in a row overall.
It kept the Spartans (16-2, 7-0) atop the Big Ten standings, a feat made even more noteworthy considering they have been without junior guards Joshua Langford (ankle) and Kyle Ahrens (back) -- Langford for five games and Ahrens for two.
But it didn't take Izzo long for the reality of life in the Big Ten to offer a smack in the face.
"I'm gonna take the win; I'm gonna enjoy the win," Izzo said. "All we got now is Maryland coming up."
Izzo smiled then offered a quick shake of head. Nope, there are no breaks, especially with the Terrapins coming to town Monday at the Breslin Center.
With all the talk of Michigan and Michigan State being the class of the conference, No. 13 Maryland (16-3, 7-1 Big Ten) has been playing well and sits one game behind Michigan State. Friday's 75-61 victory at Ohio State was the seventh straight for the Terrapins and the third consecutive win away from home.
Not bad for a young team that was picked to finish in the bottom half of the Big Ten. That is hardly the focus right now for the Terps, however.
"We're not even talking about it," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said.
"I told our guys, 'Whatever you do, don't look at our record, don't listen to people saying you're this and that.' This league's too good. This league's terrific and we're just trying to get better. So, I'm really proud of our team.
"Our guys just gotta stay even-keeled and we've just gotta keep trying to get better."
Maryland has vaulted near the top of a conference race that is starting to offer some clarity. Michigan State is the only unbeaten team remaining, with Michigan and Maryland sitting one game back with a loss each. Purdue has two losses. Every other team has at least three defeats.
While the halfway point has yet to arrive, it's obvious the Spartans-Terrapins matchup qualifies as a big one when it comes to the Big Ten race.
And while Maryland is rolling, it's not quite to the level yet of Michigan State, which hasn't lost since falling in overtime at Louisville in late November. Games have rarely been close since then, the six-point victory at Nebraska being the tightest.
That win highlighted Michigan State's success on the road, something the Spartans will try to continue after Monday's pit stop at home with the next two at Iowa and at Purdue. And they're doing it while relying on youth with Langford and Ahrens out.
"It was probably one of the bigger wins on the road under the circumstances of those freshmen having to play minutes in a tough environment," Izzo said. "That place was rocking as loud as I've ever heard a place lately, and we found a way to win."
--Field Level Media
Updated January 21, 2019