Michigan State coach Tom Izzo consistently has praised the depth of the Big Ten in recent seasons. It's no wonder, then, that Izzo isn't looking past struggling Penn State despite a showdown at first-place Ohio State looming later this week.
The 11th-ranked Spartans seek to remain unbeaten at home Wednesday night when they face the Nittany Lions, winners of two of the three meetings last season.
Michigan State (18-5, 7-3) took sole possession of second place with a 64-54 win over then-No. 23 Michigan on Sunday, improving to 14-0 at the Breslin Center.
Draymond Green, who guaranteed a victory prior to the game, scored 14 points and grabbed 16 rebounds for his conference-leading 12th double-double. He showed no effects from a sprained knee suffered in a 42-41 loss at Illinois on Jan. 31.
"It wasn't hurting," he said. "I felt great."
The Spartans will face No. 3 Ohio State on Saturday in a potential matchup of the Big Ten's top two teams, though the Nittany Lions likely won't go down easily.
Green and fellow senior Austin Thornton have lost to unranked Penn State teams three times, including 72-68 in East Lansing on Feb. 1, 2009.
Izzo said it won't take much to motivate them for this matchup.
"I just have to tell Draymond and Austin, '2009,'" Izzo said.
It didn't get much better last season, when Penn State upset No. 18 Michigan State 66-62 at home Jan. 8, then knocked off the Spartans 61-48 in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament. The Spartans won 75-57 at home Feb. 10, when Green had 15 points and 14 rebounds.
Though the Nittany Lions (10-14, 2-9) come into this matchup in last place in the conference, Izzo refuses to take them lightly.
Tim Frazier, who scored 22 points in the last win over the Spartans, is averaging 18.3 points - second in the Big Ten - and had 23 in Saturday's 77-64 loss at Iowa.
"If you polled the Big Ten coaches right now, I'm sure just about all of them would vote Penn State as one of the hardest playing teams," Izzo said. "Frazier is one of the best point guards in the conference and one of the best point guards around, period."
Frazier's solid play hasn't been able to prevent Penn State from losing four straight, including three against ranked teams. The Nittany Lions have been outrebounded in four of their last five games, which doesn't bode well against a Michigan State team that ranks third in the nation with a plus-10.5 rebound differential.
Izzo said his team - unranked before the season began - continues to improve despite the slew of new faces from last season's squad.
"This is a unique team because of the number of freshmen and guys who are playing are inexperienced," Izzo said. "We're trying to get better every day and I do think this team will be better two weeks from now if everybody keeps coming together. Right now, that's almost the biggest goal."
The Spartans have won 14 of 15 home meetings with the Nittany Lions since Penn State joined the Big Ten for the 1992-93 season.