Winning games on the road against quality opponents builds character, and this Michigan State basketball team has put on display the amount of character that they have with their performances in hostile environments this season.
Even though this team is sitting atop the Big Ten, and has a 16-3 overall record, negatives have percolated. The lack of communication in the defensive game, a lack of chemistry, and the inability to properly execute against a zone are a few.
But one aspect of the Spartans' play that cannot be questioned is their toughness and composure to win on the road.
After being upset at home against the Northwestern Wildcats, the Green & White went into Columbus and beat the Buckeyes by 11 after being down by double digits in the first half.
"We grew. Our character showed so much because we were down," senior guard Travis Walton said at practice on Tuesday. "We were coming off of a loss and the same things happened from that loss. We had some dumb turnovers in the first half. We made big plays and it was a big character check."
MSU has won all six of their natural road games, plus winning a so called neutral site game against Texas in Houston. The Spartans have turned what was a weakness last season into a strength this season.
"We did talk about it early in the season that we have to get over that stigma of winning on the road," said coach Tom Izzo.
Thus far, Izzo's team has played the least amount of home games of all Big Ten teams this season. Earlier in the season the Spartans went nearly a month without playing a game at their beloved Breslin Center, which resulted in two tough defeats to Maryland and North Carolina and a hard fought victory against IPFW in Fort Wayne.
The test away from the Breslin Center seems to have helped the Spartans greatly. Even though Michigan State didn't always play in another team's gym, it got them used to playing away from the comforts of home.
Often, the crowd is not what alters a team's play on the road. Many times, it is the unfamiliarity of playing in a new venue and not being comfortable away from home.
"Now that we've won four, I think you can say we're a little more comfortable on the road," Izzo said. "There are still a lot of landmines out there. We've probably played as good on the road, or better, than we have at home."
Those landmines that await the ninth-ranked team in the country are trips to Iowa City, Ann Arbor, West Lafayette, and Champaign. The Big Ten can be won or lost in those games, and that is why Coach Izzo is not exactly jumping for joy at the moment.
The Spartans have adopted the often used nickname "road warriors" for themselves as they band together to overcome thousands of fans and teams that are gunning for the bull's-eye on their back.
The composure of the team as a whole is obviously vital, but, especially in college basketball, the point guard must take the reigns and remain solid at all times.
"I think everybody follows the point guard," said guard Kalin Lucas. "If the point guard's head drops then I think everybody's head drops. My main thing is just keep playing with energy and show leadership at all times."
The Spartans will get road tested again on Thursday, as they take on the Iowa Hawkeyes in Iowa City at 7 p.m. EST.
Junior Raymar Morgan has been sick for nearly two weeks and he is improving, but just not at a swift pace. Coach Tom Izzo says that Morgan is not even at 80 percent, but he still contributions to the team.
"I have a lot of respect for what Raymar has done for us, because he has just gone in there and done anything he could to help us win," Izzo said.
Freshman guard Korie Lucious has tried to monitor Morgan's situation by being his doctor.
"I told him to take his medicine, but I don't think he's listening to me," Lucious said. "I told him to drink orange juice too, but he said that he doesn't like orange juice."