ROUNDBALL DAILY

After a rough November, we won’t know how good Michigan State is for a while

Duke's Grayson Allen, left, and Amile Jefferson defend against Michigan State's Nick Ward during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Durham, N.C., Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. Duke won 78-69. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Duke’s Grayson Allen, left, and Amile Jefferson defend against Michigan State’s Nick Ward during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Durham, N.C., Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. Duke won 78-69. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Michigan State is having a rough go at it so far this season.

The Spartans (4-4) have dropped all four of their non-conference games against marquee opponents, and coach Tom Izzo has already apologized to his team for an early-season gauntlet that included losses to Arizona in Hawaii, Kentucky in New York, Baylor in the Bahamas, and on Tuesday, Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Izzo probably wishes he had spread out the big-time games on the young Spartans' schedule. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Izzo probably wishes he had spread out the big-time games on the young Spartans’ schedule. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

“I actually apologized to my team,” Izzo said after the Baylor loss. “And yet, I’ve always played a tough schedule. … You know what? You can take it as an excuse, you can take it as the truth, I don’t give a damn. I’m telling you what I did. This ain’t on them. It’s on me.”

It might have been overzealous scheduling on Izzo’s part, or it might have just been bad luck. This particular group of Spartans is very young, as two of their top three scorers are freshmen. Leading scorer Miles Bridges (17.4 ppg, 8.7 rpg) looks like a stud, as does 6-8 forward Nick Ward (10.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg in 16 minutes per), but beyond those two, there isn’t much depth.

This group wasn’t ready to just step on campus in September and then go on a barnstorming tour across the country, the Pacific and the Caribbean in November.

They weren’t ready to challenge three Top-10 teams (Kentucky, Duke and Baylor) and a fourth in Arizona, which though they’re even younger than Michigan State, has a chance to be Top-10 by season’s end.

Izzo is being honest when he says that the team’s four losses are on him. And to a large extent, they are. But more troubling for college basketball fans might be the fact that the Spartans’ cross-continental gauntlet was hardly unique this year.

Kansas opened its season by playing in Hawaii (a 103-99 loss to Indiana) and then at Madison Square Garden (a 77-75 win over Duke), with those games coming four days apart.

Kentucky has already made trips to the Garden and to the Bahamas, where they eviscerated Arizona State, 115-69 in a strange “showcase” game on Monday.

All of these early-season matchups are about money and TV ratings and little else, and while it’s (sometimes) good television, it makes further mockery of the notion of the “student-athlete.”

Izzo remarked that his team looked “exhausted” by the end of its run at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, where they edged out a win over Wichita State, and who could blame them?

The Spartans barely spent any time on campus in the month of November. Getting acclimated to life in college, the courses you’re taking, where buildings are? Forget it.

The freshmen-laiden Spartans were instead flown around like a professional team.

Michigan State will get its much-needed respite now. They’ve got home games with Oral Roberts, Youngstown State, Tennessee Tech, Northeastern and Oakland before finally opening Big Ten play on December 27 at Minnesota.

After that, the Spartans won’t leave East Lansing again until January 15. They’ll probably have cabin fever by then.

Michigan State fans will have to hope that their young squad was able to learn as it took its lumps in this rough November. We won’t know how good this team can be for a while.

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