Michigan State hasn’t opened its Big Ten schedule this well in more than three decades, partly due to playing the majority of those games in East Lansing.
After an uninspiring effort in his team’s most recent game at the Breslin Center, however, coach Tom Izzo is concerned about an upcoming stretch of road games.
Izzo and the sixth-ranked Spartans visit Minnesota on Saturday, looking to match the best conference start in school history and hand the Gophers their first loss at Williams Arena.
The only time Michigan State (16-3, 6-0) has had a better start in league play than this one came when the 1977-78 team, led by Magic Johnson, won its first seven Big Ten games.
If the Spartans are to surpass that mark, they will have to do it away from home. They’ve played their last three games in East Lansing but play six of their next eight on the road, including a visit to Michigan on Tuesday after this matchup in Minneapolis.
Michigan State is 3-2 in true road games, including league wins over Northwestern and Iowa by an average of 19.5 points. The Gophers (12-6, 3-3), though, are 10-0 at home this season, holding opponents to 57.8 points and 36.2 percent shooting.
No Big Ten team has fewer than two conference losses other than the Spartans, who beat Iowa 70-63 on Wednesday for their seventh straight win overall. However, they led by 19 midway through the second half before letting the Hawkeyes close within three points with 2:05 remaining.
“I’m starting to get concerned,” said forward Draymond Green, who had 11 rebounds and nine points. “We play six of our next eight on the road. … If we play like that, we’re going to lose.”
Green and Izzo were among the many Spartans frustrated by the team nearly blowing another big lead. In a 60-53 win over Minnesota on Jan. 13, the Spartans led by 11 before the Gophers cut it to three with under three minutes remaining.
“I’m used to great teams playing with incredible emotion,” Izzo said. “This team is not quite like that right now. … I’m not happy with where we are.”
The Spartans have shot 41.8 percent over their last three games, including 10 of 42 from 3-point range. They are averaging 14.7 turnovers this season - second-most in the Big Ten.
Kalin Lucas, averaging a team-leading 15.5 points, finished with 11 points Wednesday, going 4 of 11 from the field. He was 3 of 14 versus the Gophers.
“We can still play better as a team,” Lucas told the Spartans’ official Web site. “We have to learn from these games because it’s going to be tough on the road.”
Michigan State has won seven straight over Minnesota, which is looking to avoid losing three straight for the second time this season. The Gophers followed the Michigan State loss with an 81-78 overtime defeat at Indiana on Sunday.
Minnesota trailed throughout regulation before Devoe Joseph tied the game with 9.6 seconds remaining. Joseph finished with a season-high 19 points.
“You always believe you can come back,” coach Tubby Smith said. “They proved today they have matured. They’ve obviously learned their lesson and they responded very well.”
The Gophers’ last three losses have all been on the road. Leading scorer Lawrence Westbrook, held to seven points at Indiana, is averaging 16.4 points at home.
Minnesota last won its first 11 home games in 2000-01.