Michigan State got some much-needed rest this week while its players took final exams. The schedule for the rest of this month would appear to give them only one break from top-notch competition.
The 14th-ranked Spartans, though, won't have coach Tom Izzo on the sidelines for that game as they host Prairie View A&M on Saturday.
The NCAA suspended Izzo for one game Friday after determining Michigan State committed a secondary rules violation during a basketball camp last June. Officials at the school said the program hired someone associated with a potential recruit, who was paid $475 for working with middle schoolers over five days.
"As you can imagine, I'm upset about the situation, but it's an isolated, inadvertent situation," Izzo said. "In no way, shape or form did we think in any way we did anything wrong, but by the broad letter of the law here, it could be interpreted in many different ways, and I have to accept the interpretation of the NCAA."
Because of the suspension, Izzo won't get to see how his well-rested club performs following a grueling stretch.
While playing eight games in 20 days, the Spartans (7-3) traveled to Maui and back, to top-ranked Duke and back, then took on then-No. 8 Syracuse at Madison Square Garden before heading out again for their latest game.
Michigan State's players were showing signs of fatigue by the time they faced in-state rival Oakland at The Palace of Auburn Hills on Dec. 11. Kalin Lucas scored 25 points to help the Spartans hold on for a 77-76 victory after splitting their previous six games.
"In the second half, I thought we all looked tired," Izzo said. "Eight games in 20 days is a lot for an NBA team."
Izzo finally had some extended practice time this week after giving his players off Monday and Tuesday. That extra practice should help the Spartans prepare for upcoming games against No. 22 Texas on Wednesday night and No. 21 Minnesota in their Big Ten opener Dec. 31.
One area which Michigan State could continue to fine-tune is taking better care of the ball. The Spartans are averaging a conference-worst 16.8 turnovers but committed only eight in the win over Oakland.
"The difference in having some time to practice is going to be enormous," Izzo said. "It's no question the schedule hasn't allowed us time to practice, and that has created some of our situations."
They should have no trouble handling Prairie View (2-9), which has yet to beat a Division I opponent this season.
The Panthers also have dropped all seven of their road games by an average of 28.4 points, including an 87-63 defeat to Texas A&M on Dec. 8. Senior guard Trant Simpson is the only player averaging in double figures (12.1 ppg) for Prairie View, which is scoring 65.4 points per game on 36.9 percent shooting.
After posting consecutive winning campaigns, the Panthers have nine newcomers this season including Simpson, a transfer from Alabama A&M.
This is the first meeting between Michigan State and Prairie View. The Spartans are 3-0 against current members of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Michigan State has defeated 51 consecutive non-conference opponents at the Breslin Center since losing to Duke on Dec. 3, 2003.
Lucas, still on the mend from offseason surgery for a ruptured left Achilles' tendon, needs 28 points to become his school's 10th all-time leading scorer.