September 16, 2014

Tom Izzo hasn't been shy about discussing a culture change for the Michigan State program in order to bring it to a championship level, something that might seem a bit strange considering he's appeared in seven Final Fours in 20 seasons as its coach.

He wants the Spartans to be viewed as true title contenders, and he's trying to instill in his players that on a night when they double up their opponent, there are still things to improve.

Third-ranked Michigan State, which has moved up 10 spots in The AP Top 25, will continue trying to live up to its coach's lofty standards when it hosts Eastern Michigan in a non-bracketed game of the Wooden Legacy tournament Monday night.

The Spartans (3-0) won their opener by 27 over Florida Atlantic, rallied to beat then-No. 4 Kansas in Chicago 79-73 and routed Arkansas-Pine Bluff 92-46 on Friday, but Izzo wasn't gloating about his squad's most recent performance.

He focused more on how Michigan State looked lethargic in the first 10 minutes of the second half. Izzo said some players took a step backward with their play.

"If we're going to change things around here, we've got to figure out when we get a team down, we've got to step on it in the second half," Izzo said. "So I've got to make a fool of myself - which I don't have a problem doing - but you would hope that somebody would pick that up. I don't think our leaders jumped on it.

"Everybody's telling me around the conference and around the country that (quality) teams are getting beat, so I guess I should just shut my mouth, take a win, move on."

That hasn't been Izzo's style, though, and likely never will be, but the overall positives still seem to outweigh the negatives.

The Spartans' plus-22.7 rebound differential ranks second in the nation, and their average of 23.7 assists is tied with Iowa for second in the country.

Denzel Valentine is averaging 10.7 assists to lead the nation. He had 11 against UAPB, adding seven points and seven rebounds while shooting just 1 of 8 from 3-point range after recording a triple-double against the Jayhawks.

Bryn Forbes scored 14 points and Matt Costello had his first double-double with 10 and 10 rebounds.

"Denzel would have had 15 or 16 assists (if more shots were made)," Izzo said. "We have to make sure we don't forget about Denzel either. He was so unselfish offensively. We weren't looking for him, but he was still our key guy."

Valentine attempted only six shots in last season's meeting with Eastern Michigan and had eight assists in a 66-46 victory Dec. 17. Guard Raven Lee led the Eagles with 12 points, but he's yet to play this year after being suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules earlier this month.

Junior college transfer Willie Mangum IV has stepped up in Lee's absence, averaging 21.0 points after netting 29 in Friday's 79-34 victory over NAIA foe Siena Heights.

The Eagles (2-1) forced 25 turnovers and are tied for third in the nation in steals with 13.0 per game.

If Eastern Michigan can pull off the upset, it would be the first team to beat the Spartans at home in November since David Robinson-led Navy won in overtime Nov. 29, 1986, at Jenison Fieldhouse. Michigan State hasn't lost during this month at Breslin Center since it opened in 1989.

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