Michigan State coach Tom Izzo signals during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Michigan State, Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015, in East Lansing, Mich. Michigan State won 59-56. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
Al Goldis
February 16, 2015

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) Tom Izzo enjoys the unfriendly reception he gets in opposing arenas - the chants and the signs are part of what makes college basketball fun for the Michigan State coach.

''Hostile in a good way,'' he said. ''If we were 1-20 I wouldn't hear any of them, so somewhere it's complimentary.''

As usual, Izzo will be a target when the Spartans take the court Tuesday night at Michigan.

The Wolverines have lost four games in a row, and they are clearly a major longshot to reach the NCAA tournament, but this rivalry game often transcends each team's postseason outlook, and Michigan State can expect to face an inspired opponent in Ann Arbor.

Less than three weeks ago, Michigan traveled to East Lansing, and with two key players on crutches, the Wolverines took Michigan State to overtime before losing 76-66.

''In rivalry games, records don't matter, you've heard all the cliches,'' Izzo said.

Michigan was without injured guards Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton in the first matchup with the Spartans, and the Wolverines will be without those two again Tuesday.

LeVert is out for the season because of a foot injury. Walton has been sidelined with a toe issue, and coach John Beilein said Monday he won't play against Michigan State.

If the Wolverines (13-12, 6-7 Big Ten) had pulled off the upset against Michigan State back on Feb. 1, then Michigan may have entered the conversation as a potential NCAA tournament at-large team.

Instead, that was the start of this four-game skid. Michigan later lost by three at Indiana on and in overtime at Illinois.

Michigan State (17-8, 8-4) has lost its past four games in Ann Arbor, so even though Michigan is short-handed, the Spartans will have plenty of motivation.

So will the Wolverines, who will have a chance to take out some of their frustration on Izzo and his team.

The loss to Illinois was particularly exasperating for Michigan, which allowed the final seven points of regulation and the first 14 of overtime.

''I'm starting to get sick of losing these close games, and that was just another one that we let slip away,'' guard Spike Albrecht said. ''For us not to win that game was just hard for me to accept.''

Albrecht and fellow guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman scored 18 points apiece in the first meeting with Michigan State, and the Wolverines played fairly well on offense until overtime, when the Spartans shut them out for the entire extra period.

Michigan State has had some trouble this season too. The Spartans have been flirting with the NCAA tournament bubble, although their victory over Ohio State on Saturday was an obvious boost.

''I think we're starting to come along, and everybody's getting more comfortable,'' guard Denzel Valentine said. ''We've just got to get a couple more people stepping up and giving us a little bit more, and then I think we're on the right track.''

Michigan and Michigan State have finished at or near the top of the Big Ten for the past three seasons, but the Wolverines are well off the pace this year, and the Spartans are three games behind first-place Wisconsin.

The obvious question is whether the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry has lost any of its luster this season, but the game in East Lansing earlier this month was another tense, hard-fought contest, with fans flocking to the Breslin Center in the middle of a snowstorm. It will be no surprise if Tuesday's meeting has a similar atmosphere.

''I didn't feel that crowd was any different than any other time we've gone up there, and I don't expect it to be anything different right here,'' Beilein said. ''Both programs have gotten to the point where they're really good, and people expect a great game.''

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