The long holiday break is just about over for No. 14 Michigan State and Western Michigan, but it’s something both teams needed ahead of Sunday’s matchup at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.
Michigan State (9-3) has played a typically difficult schedule while dealing with an injury to freshman guard Rocket Watts as well as the news it won’t get senior guard Joshua Langford back this season.
“It’s definitely important, especially with all we’ve been through as a team,” senior guard Cassius Winston told reporters of the four-day reprieve from all things basketball he and his teammates received this week. “It’s that mental break that’s probably even more important for us than the physical. There is a lot that we’ve gone through so to just get a break and see family and regroup (is good).”
Before they hit the break, the Spartans put together one of their most complete games of the season, beating Eastern Michigan 101-48 on Dec. 21.
“It was the first time I felt like we put everything together,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “The practices were important. We’ve got to understand that we practice how we play, and I think the practices were really important.”
The practices led to one of Michigan State’s best shooting performances. After struggling from 3-point range most of the season, the Spartans made 15 of 30 against Eastern Michigan. That came after going 9-for-21 a few days earlier against Northwestern.
Izzo, however, reminded his team to take advantage of the break and not spend all of their time in a gym.
“I told all of them no basketball,” Izzo said. “Just get away for a while and then we come back and we start grinding.”
Western Michigan (7-5), meanwhile, hasn’t played the level of schedule the Spartans have, but it’s had its own treacherous start to the season. The Broncos have played four true road games and played two games in Orlando, Fla., as part of the NIT Season Tip-off.
With their last game a win over NAIA school Aquinas College on Dec. 18, the Broncos have had more of a break to prepare for their first meeting against Michigan State since 1998.
“(The break) comes at the perfect time,” Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins said.
Now, though, the Broncos get to turn their attention to one of the most high-profile programs in the state.
“It’s the first time playing Michigan State since I’ve been here,” Hawkins said. “Obviously we know all about them. They were the preseason No. 1 team in the nation and they play a brutal schedule. Coach Izzo challenges his guys all the time, every year.
“Obviously, Cassius Winston is one of the best players in the country but they have some players. It’s not every day we go up against McDonald’s All-Americans. It will be a huge challenge for us but something our guys love to do. … It’ll be a good game for us, a great game coming back from the break.”
–Field Level Media