Tom Izzo finally has something to build on.
Following Sunday's 89-81 victory over DePaul, Izzo's No. 3 ranked Spartans (3-1) have won two consecutive games, including the Spartan Classic Championship, but perhaps more importantly, are playing cohesively with the No. 2 Duke Blue Devils (3-1) around the corner.
The win over DePaul highlighted several positives in MSU's play, including the young team's ability to play with confidence despite possibly their best player being held in check.
Michigan State sophomore center Paul Davis was limited to just 9 points on 3-of-8 shooting, but Alan Anderson (16 second half points), Kelvin Torbert (19 points) and Chris Hill (15 points and 11 assists) stepped up.
"I thought we did a tremendous job of taking Paul Davis, who is a tremendous player, a little bit out of the offense and out of his rhythm," said DePaul head coach Paul Leitao. "But as terrific teams do, other guys stepped up. Kelvin Torbert (tournament MVP) played a heck of a game.
"He was opportunistic in making shots and knifing through our defense. In terms of offensive players, just as threats, Chris Hill and Maurice Ager forced us to adjust along the perimeter. I think that was the story of this basketball game."
Although Izzo was pleased with his team's performance, he found room for some constructive criticism.
"We are still at the point where we can't seem to put everything together and that takes its toll," said Izzo afterwards. "For that reason, this is a very hard team to coach. We look like dynamite out there at times but certain lineups can't do certain things, which is a problem that a lot of other teams in the nation are facing right now as well."
One of those teams is Duke, who the Spartans will battle on Wednesday as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Blue Devils fell Saturday to the Purdue Boilermakers, preventing them from a possible No. 1 slotting.
The Spartans have played a solid four-and-a-half periods of basketball, including their second half run at Kansas last week, Saturday's win against Penn, and the victory over DePaul. The team is gelling, and may have responded to Izzo's comments last week that this was his "softest" team in the last nine years.
Furthermore, Michigan State could be catching Duke at the right time. The Blue Devils are still reeling from their loss to Purdue, and following an exhausting Great Alaskan road trip, a stop-off in East Lansing on Wednesday might be too much for Coach K and company to overcome.
The Spartans' forthcoming tests could be daunting, but a win on Wednesday over Duke could give them the momentum they need to get them through the thick of their remaining non-conference schedule.