Michigan State is off to its best Big Ten start in three decades, but Tom Izzo is still concerned.
The coach of the seventh-ranked Spartans might have reason to worry as his squad faces another hurdle in trying to remain perfect in league play when it hosts Illinois on Saturday afternoon.
While it wasn’t easy, Michigan State (14-2, 4-0) remained the Big Ten’s lone undefeated team by holding on for a 78-73 win at pesky Penn State on Wednesday. The Spartans, who almost blew a 17-point lead in that game, are off to their best league start since opening 7-0 in 1977-78.
Despite the strong start, Izzo isn’t completely satisfied with his team’s play and understands every game presents a different challenge.
“I’m disappointed we’re still not finishing,” said Izzo, whose team allowed Penn State to pull within one point with 1:30 to play. “We were lucky to win.
“At 4-0, it’s great but I don’t feel even a little bit comfortable with it. Maybe that’s the good news.”
Looking to extend their home winning streak to 28 games, the Spartans face Illinois (15-2, 3-1), which is coming off a 66-51 home win over No. 25 Michigan on Wednesday and already beat then-No. 9 Purdue 71-67 on the road to open Big Ten play.
“I’ve seen (Illinois) on TV a couple times. They play so hard it’s scary,” said Izzo, whose teams have won four of the last five over the Illini—two straight at the Breslin Center.
While Izzo has set the bar high for his team, his players continue to make strides.
Leading scorer Raymar Morgan had 17 points, Goran Suton added 13 with 14 rebounds and guard Kalin Lucas went 6-for-8 from the free-throw line in the final 2 minutes to finish with 15 points against Penn State.
The Spartans shot 48.3 percent and outrebounded the Nittany Lions 41-24 in winning their 10th straight game since being routed 98-63 by then-No. 1 North Carolina at Ford Field on Dec. 3.
Suton, who recorded his second double-double of the season Wednesday, had 10 points and 10 rebounds in each of the Spartans’ two victories over Illinois last season.
After missing the NCAA tournament in 2007-08, Illinois has been one of the league’s biggest surprises and another upset Saturday would almost certainly vault the Illini into the Top 25 for the first time since the final poll of the 2005-06 season.
Sophomore center Mike Tisdale had 24 points and guard Demetri McCamey added 17 Wednesday for Illinois, which outscored Michigan 36-20 after trailing by one at the break.
While Michigan State is among the conference leaders in shooting at 47.2 percent, the Illini are at the top of the league (48.3). Defensively, Illinois is second in the Big Ten, allowing 56.6 points per game.
“They have guys that can pass it, can shoot it, they play defense,” Michigan coach John Beilein said of the Illini. “That is a really good team. They have a lot of multidimensional players.”
The 7-foot-1 Tisdale is averaging 11.9 points during his first season as a starter, but could be in for a challenge against a Michigan State front line that features the 6-10 Suton and 6-8 Morgan.
After losing eight of nine against ranked opponents in 2007-08, Illinois is 3-1 versus Top 25 teams this season.