Michigan State coach Tom Izzo rarely holds back his emotions on the sideline, but his humbleness off the court has helped keep his teams grounded.
It's a main reason he limits his praise for the sixth-ranked Spartans despite them riding their longest winning streak since Izzo's first Final Four season.
Michigan State seeks its 16th straight victory as it visits pesky Northwestern on Saturday night.
Since losing their first two games to North Carolina on Nov. 11 and Duke on Nov. 15, the Spartans (15-2, 4-0 Big Ten) have held opponents to 58.1 points per game during their longest streak since the 1998-99 team won 22 in a row before losing to the Blue Devils in a national semifinal.
Michigan State routed Iowa 95-61 on Tuesday while forcing a season-high 21 turnovers, though Izzo said his team can be even better.
''It's been a special team already because they've done what we've asked them to do - defend and rebound,'' said Izzo, who has coached the Spartans to six Final Fours and the 2000 NCAA tournament title. ''I keep feeling like I'm downgrading us, but I feel like we still have so much to learn and that's why we were coaching to the end because we don't want to get casual.''
Draymond Green had another solid effort with game highs of 22 points and 10 rebounds, while Keith Appling finished with 15 points and nine assists.
Green has team-leading averages of 15.9 points and 9.8 rebounds, while Appling leads the Spartans at 3.9 assists per game.
Michigan State shot 61.7 percent against Iowa – its best shooting performance since hitting 67.9 percent of its field goals Jan. 20, 2007, in a victory over Penn State.
''We've gone from nothing to something,'' said Appling, referring to the Spartans being unranked in the preseason AP poll. ''When we hung around against North Carolina and Duke, we made a commitment that we're not going to lose any more.''
Michigan State has won seven straight meetings at Northwestern, which has lost four of five and is in need of a signature conference win to revive its chances for its first trip to the NCAA tournament in school history.
Three of those defeats, though have come against Top 25 competition, including a 66-64 overtime loss to No. 13 Michigan on Wednesday.
The Wildcats (11-5, 1-3) trailed by three when Alex Marcotullio was fouled shooting a 3-pointer with 0.3 seconds remaining in OT. He missed the first free throw, and Northwestern suffered its second consecutive tough defeat after falling 57-56 to Illinois in its previous game Jan. 4.
John Shurna played all 45 minutes and scored 21 points, while Drew Crawford added 20.
Shurna, who averages a team-high 18.9 points on 42.6 percent shooting from 3-point range and 45.6 percent overall, is shooting 36.4 percent against ranked opponents this season. The senior forward is a combined 3 for 21 in the last two meetings versus the Spartans and shooting 38.8 percent in six games against them overall.
The entire Northwestern team, however, has struggled against Top 25 foes. It lost 69-41 to then-No. 7 Baylor on Dec. 4, fell 87-79 at then-No. 23 Creighton and was blown out 87-54 at then-No. 2 Ohio State prior to losing at Michigan.
Appling scored a game-high 19 points while Shurna was held to six in the Spartans 71-67 overtime victory in the most recent matchup Jan. 15, 2011.
Green scored 15 points in Michigan State's 65-62 win Jan. 3, 2011, in the last meeting in Evanston.
Northwestern has lost 16 straight against ranked opponents.