Chicago — It’s not as if Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has ever felt great about any of his team’s rotations in the first week of the regular season.
And heading into Tuesday night’s matchup with No. 1 Duke in the Champions Classic at the United Center, the rotation was clearly still a work in progress. That’s something Izzo and his staff expected early this season as the Spartans can go 11 deep — 12 if junior guard Kyle Ahrens returns at some point this season from a foot injury.
But Friday’s victory over North Florida in the regular-season opener at least offered a chance to do some tinkering, including subbing for forward Miles Bridges in the first few minutes.
“The first half we thought we did a very good job,” Izzo said. “We tried to get Miles out early, make sure we get him some kind of rest and then get on a rotation. We looked at back in the day when we scripted it more before. That worked a little bit.
“But it will be five, six, seven games yet before we really know where (Ben) Carter and even Kenny Goins and (Gavin) Schilling are. And that’s going to change our rotation a little bit. Trying to play Ben at the four a little and we’re trying to play Kenny at the three a little bit with the injury to Kyle, so that’s changed it a little bit, too. But I don’t think our rotation’s gonna be where I would like it for a couple of weeks yet.”
Izzo is doing his best to not wear out Bridges, something that can be easy to do when he’s the best player on the floor. In the exhibition win over Georgia, Bridges played 36 minutes, a number Izzo deemed too high.
Against North Florida, no player got 30 minutes. That’s ideal but probably not practical against some of the better competition, as Izzo and his staff tried to work Bridges in with several different lineups.
“That was the first time we really tried to do that, to get him out early just because we’ve made him go such long stretches,” Izzo said. “We’re going to try to use those timeouts a little bit where he still might play a lot of minutes, but sometimes it’s easier said than done. We tried to do that against Georgia, and then (Matt) McQuaid and (Joshua) Langford got into foul trouble.
“I think Miles has accepted just about anything we’ve asked him to do, and we’ll take a look at that as time goes on. But if we keep taking him out right then, and then getting him a few minutes, including the 16-minute timeout and then we can rest him some around the eight- or 10-minute mark, that’s what we’re going to try to look to do. See if we can get him more rest time without less minutes.”
Welcome in Windy City
Michigan State has played its share of games at the United Center, compiling a 14-8 record, including an 11-7 mark in the Big Ten tournament. The Spartans’ last two Champions Classic wins also came in Chicago — a 79-73 win over Kansas in 2015 and a 78-74 victory over Kentucky in 2013
Izzo is hoping Michigan State’s large alumni base will overcome the fact Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is a native of the Windy City.
“We have a lot of alums there, although Mike’s from there so maybe he’ll have his whole family and it’ll make a difference, I don’t know,” Izzo said. “There’s no question that all four teams will be well-represented in Chicago. No knowledge of this, but I’d be willing to bet we probably have more alums than any of them just because of the number of alums we have and the fact that Chicago is a place were a lot of our alums end up.”