Michigan State is looking for some leadership before it begins what’s sure to be a rugged Big Ten schedule.
The status of reigning conference player of the year Kalin Lucas is uncertain for Wednesday night when the 11th-ranked Spartans look for their 47th straight non-conference home win in a matchup against Texas-Arlington.
Coach Tom Izzo benched Lucas at Tuesday’s practice, claiming he is not satisfied with the leadership on his team. Izzo told Lucas he should spend the time thinking about his role as a team leader, although the junior guard is not suspended.
Lucas has shown some improvement on the court in the early season. He’s averaging a team-high 15.7 points and is shooting 48.5 percent - up from 39.5 in 2008-09.
With the other 10 Big Ten schools opening conference play between Tuesday and Thursday, Michigan State (9-3) had an open slot. Rather than have an extended amount of time before the conference opener at No. 25 Northwestern on Saturday, the Spartans opted to schedule Texas-Arlington (5-4) to prepare.
The Spartans won’t expect to be tested Wednesday, entering with a 7-0 home record. They haven’t lost a non-conference game at the Breslin Center since falling 72-50 to then-No. 6 Duke on Dec. 3, 2003.
The tests will come starting Saturday, with the Big Ten featuring five ranked teams to tie the Big East for the most in the AP Top 25.
Michigan State hasn’t played since a 79-68 road loss to No. 2 Texas last Tuesday. The Spartans led by as many as eight in a tightly played first half before allowing the Longhorns to shoot 59.2 percent after the break.
The Spartans were outrebounded for the first time, 32-31. They made 1 of 9 shots over the final 8:53, getting outscored 20-10.
“We looked a little fatigued and not hungry enough,” Izzo said. “I didn’t feel very good.”
Michigan State has limited its 10 unranked opponents to 36.3 percent shooting, while the two ranked opponents have combined to shoot 57.0 percent.
Four players besides Lucas average at least 10 points, led by Raymar Morgan’s 10.5 per game. Morgan has played well over the last seven games, averaging 13.0 points and shooting 63.3 percent from the floor.
The Spartans will be trying to slow down one of the nation’s leading scorers in Marquez Haynes, who averages 25.2 points to lead the Southland Conference. Haynes has scored at least 30 four times, notching 31 on Dec. 22 in a 101-85 win over NAIA opponent Texas Wesleyan.
The Mavericks shot 70.4 percent (19 of 27) in the first half, taking a 67-45 lead into the locker room. They finished at 58.9 percent after shooting 39.7 percent in their first eight games.
“I don’t even know if we’ve shot it that well in practice this year,” coach Scott Cross said. “Hopefully this is a good sign. This is one of the things we talked about in practice.”
These teams have never met. Michigan State is 5-0 against teams from the Southland Conference while Texas-Arlington is 0-6 versus the Big Ten.