Much of the hype surrounding the Big Ten through the first couple months of the season has centered around Michigan and Indiana.
Indiana opened the season as the No. 1 team in the nation and spent several weeks there, while Michigan is currently No. 2 and undefeated and off to its best start in more than 20 years.
That’s left Michigan State as an underdog as it enters what figures to be a challenging Big Ten season with a road game against 11th-ranked Minnesota (12-1) at 2 p.m. today.
And that’s just fine with the No. 19-ranked Spartans (11-2).
“I feel like the underdog is better because it gives you some pressure to want to win,” MSU center and senior captain Derrick Nix said.
Keith Appling said the team is more focused on improving than how it’s viewed by outsiders.
“We don’t try to much to worry about those things. We just want to get better as a team and then see where we end up when it’s all said and done,” said Appling, who leads MSU with an average of 14.9 points and 4.1 assists.
“That’s usually on top so we just gotta continue to get better.”
MSU (11-2) is one of six Big Ten teams ranked in the top 25 as conference play gets started. Michigan, the lone remaining unbeaten team in the league, leads the way at No. 2, while Indiana (11-1) is No. 5 and Ohio State (9-2) is 10th. Minnesota and Illinois are both 12-1 and ranked 11th and 12th, respectively, while the Spartans are the final of the ranked teams.
Then there’s teams like Iowa, which is 11-2 and off to its best start in eight years. No team in the conference has a losing record. That’s helped the Big Ten have the top RPI as conference season gets going today.
“It’s gonna be that kind of way where there is gonna be three and four-game killer killers and then all the sudden you throw in a team that’s not as good and if you let your guard down you’re losing that game,” MSU coach Tom Izzo said. “That’s the way I’m approaching it, one game at a time. You can’t get too excited about a win or too down about a loss because I think there’s gonna be some in this league.”
The challenge of the talented Big Ten has MSU players looking forward to defending their conference title.
“Each night is going to bring a different adventure. It’s pretty much no days off and we’ve gotta work hard each and every game,” Appling said. “I’m pretty sure myself and everybody else on the team is looking forward to it. It should be a very exciting season.”