After a pair of easy wins to open its season, Michigan State might be entering one of the toughest parts of its schedule.
Following an eight-day layoff, the fifth-ranked Spartans return to the court on Thursday for a matchup against unbeaten Maryland in the first round of the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla.Michigan State (2-0) kicked off its season Nov. 16 with a 100-62 victory over Idaho, then posted a 70-59 win at IPFW three days later.Those foes, however, may not have prepared the Spartans for the competition in this tournament. After facing Maryland (3-0), they will oppose either No. 9 Gonzaga or Oklahoma State in the second round. The other half of the bracket features 12th-ranked Tennessee and No. 21 Georgetown.Following this tournament looms a much-anticipated meeting next Wednesday with top-ranked North Carolina in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge at Ford Field in Detroit."It seems like it heats up quickly for us now, with the games we have coming up," said Spartans coach Tom Izzo, whose team is trying to open with three straight wins for a third consecutive season. "But still the single biggest issue I have is my own team."Izzo's biggest concern lies with the health of senior center Goran Suton, whose knee injury may limit him in this tournament and possibly for the rest of the season.Forward Raymar Morgan is doing his best to help pick up the slack. The junior, who is 14-for-19 from the field through the first two games, is trying to become the first player in Michigan State history to open a season with three consecutive 20-point performances since Steve Smith did it for the first 17 games of 1990-91.Second-year guards Kalin Lucas (15.0 points per game) and Chris Allen (14.0 ppg) have also contributed to a Spartans offense that is shooting 51.3 percent from the field. It will be challenged by a Maryland defense that has held its first three opponents to 58.3 points per game and 36.1 percent shooting.On offense, the Terrapins have averaged 81.0 points on the strength of junior guard Greivis Vasquez, who leads the team in points (22.3) and assists (5.0) per game.Vasquez won ACC player of the week honors after he scored 26 points in Friday's 89-74 win over Vermont. Adrian Bowie added a career-high 17 off the bench to help Maryland remain undefeated."In any good season, there's a win like that somewhere along the line, where it seems there's no chance to win," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who earned his 400th victory. "It kind of cements the idea that if you work hard enough, good things happen."The Spartans have won two of three matchups versus the Terrapins, but lost the most recent contest 62-60 on Nov. 17, 2006, at Madison Square Garden.