Spartans Get Ready For Big Ten Opener

Spartans will have tough sledding against an undefeated Minnesota squad playing at an odd time in ackward Williams arena.

EAST LANSING - An ackward arena, an unusual starting time and a very tough opponent will greet the Michigan State Spartans when they take their 9-2 record into Williams Arena to play the undefeated (12-0) Minnesota Golden Gophers in the opener of the Big Ten slate tomorrow night.

The first stanza of the 2008-2009 season is over, and Michigan State goes into Big Ten play ranked 10th by the Associated Press with a 9-2 record. When considering all the glitches that have kept the Spartans from playing at full strength, their mark is pretty respectable.

Playing a conference schedule as rugged as the Big Ten will test MSU's mettle in true road games at their opponents' home arenas.

A familar face will greet the Spartans in Minneapolis; Tubby Smith has coached against MSU eight times including six at Kentucky, but he hasn't fared well, compiling a 2-6 record against Tom Izzo.

But this year's edition of the Gophers are playing at a high level as evidenced by their win over a heavily favored Louisville team.

"They're probably the most aggressive team that we've played this year. It's just a typical Tubby team," MSU coach Tom Izzo said after practice on Monday.

"He gets everybody to play hard," said Izzo of his counterpart. "He and I are good friends and I love the way he coaches, and I think they're probably missing him in Kentucky."

Freshman power forward Draymond Green expects a physical game on Wednesday.

"They're real tough," Green said. "They like to get at it on defense, they trap. They basically mad dog you."

Lawrence Westbrook is the leading scorer for the Gophers at 13 points per game. The scoring and playing time are evenly distributed for Minnesota. Tubby Smith plays 11 guys 10 minutes or more.

Eight of the players are contributing more than five points per game, the same number as MSU.

"They played 13 guys in the first half last night (Sunday)," Izzo said. "Some of their best players are playing 22 to 23 minutes, so they're really rotating guys in."

For the awkward, MSU will step into Williams Arena, a place so antiquated that the first game held there dates as far back as 1928.

This will mark the 35th time the Spartans will begin the Big Ten season on the road. They are 10-24 in the previous contests, and Tom Izzo is 2-6. The fact that the students will not be there may help, but "The Barn" is still an awkward place to play.

"Not my favorite place to play, with the elevated floor, but you kind of like that old fashion barn-type arena," senior Goran Suton said. "It's a tough place to play, but we've won there before and hopefully we'll win one there again."

The unusual start time resulted when the game was moved from 6 p.m. ET to 12 p.m. ET in order to avoid conflict with the Insight Bowl, in which Minnesota is playing Kansas at 5:30 p.m. ET.

This means that the Spartans will have to tip-off at 11 a.m. in the central time zone, which may give the Gophers another slight edge.

"They worked their schedule out to where they have a morning practice all the time, but it is what it is," Izzo said "We'll play it, and I don't think that will be a reason why we won't play well."

The Spartans expect to see a different Gopher team than the one that they swept a year ago.

SeniorTravis Walton noted that it is imperative that his team is efficient and is setting and running around screens at full force.

ROE UPDATE

Delvon Roe's sprained ankle may keep him out of the lineup for a game or two. Coach Izzo said that he is very questionable, and leaning towards doubtful for the game on Wednesday.

He doesn't expect the injury to be a multiple week problem, still Izzo expressed frustration that he hasn't been able to get Roe and senior star center Goran Suton on the floor together. "They haven't even practiced together," lamented Izzo, not even once.

TICKETS AVAILABLE

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Tickets are available for the Michigan State men's basketball Big Ten home opener against Ohio State on Jan. 6 at the Breslin Center at 7 p.m.

With students on semester break, seats in the student section are available for the contest.

Tickets range in price from $13-$30 and may be purchased through the MSU Athletics Ticket Office by phone at 1-800-GO-STATE or 517-355-1610 or on-line at www.msuspartans.com.


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