As the #4 Michigan State Spartans head towards their rematch with the Iowa Hawkeyes on Thursday night, no doubt this game is even more significant than just another game. The 16-1 (3-1) Spartans were handed their only loss of the season at the hands of the Hawkeyes minus star player Denzel Valentine and just one day after their head coach Tom Izzo had lost his father. Izzo acknowledge the intensity of this week.

Izzo wasn’t done talking about the Hawkeyes, “Interesting week, you know. It’s trying to keep perspective on everything right now. We’ve won three games, we’ve on two of them handily, but we have not played the upper echelon. The one upper echelon team we played we got beat, so there’s a reality to this whole thing. It’s gonna be a tough week and a tough two weeks ahead for us when you look at a Thursday-Sunday, Wednesday-Saturday tilt and a couple more still on the road.”

He added about the team from Iowa City, “Iowa, as everybody knows is probably playing as well as anybody in the league. You can go into Purdue and you can beat Michigan State, they’ve played very well. I don’t think anybody should think that loss was because Valentine wasn’t with us. To be honest with you, that loss was because we played as poorly, and they had something to do with it. We did not play with the energy and effort that should be expected by you, me, or our fans with our team. Every loose ball we didn’t get as I said that night. Watching the film again, but we just didn’t do the little things that it takes to win. And I think we’ve changed some but I also think the level of competition has changed a little bit.

The Spartans got their star Valentine back this weekend vs. Penn State and will probably have him back in the starting lineup on Thursday. Izzo said, “Valentine is gonna be a big factor for us moving forward but at the same time we have to play better as the rest of our group. As far as Iowa goes, little odd to play them for the second time in a two-week period. I’m not a fan of that but it’s gonna happen to all of us throughout the year and it’s just the way it works out. The conference has to do what it has to do to keep all the other things in place like how many road games in a row you play and things like that, but it is odd. The other side of it, the game is still fresh in everybody’s mind. We know what we did wrong, we know what we didn’t accomplish. The scouting report is gonna be similar so there will be some plusses to the minuses. Obviously our guys need to play better but Uthof didn’t play well against us either. He was in foul trouble, though half our team was in foul trouble with Forbes and Harris especially going out in the first half. So I think both teams are playing better than we played in that game and Fran has done a heck of a job with his team. I think they’ve got the most veteran team maybe in the conference as far as starters and guys that have played. I said I thought Clemons was a big addition into that lineup and I thought he helped them, even though if you look at him stat-wise he’s kind of their Travis Walton. He just does things to help them win that doesn’t go in the stat sheet. But at the same time I think getting Gavin back now a little bit more has helped. I think Marv is a better player than he was then and that’s helped and definitely Denzel will be back and that’s gonna help us a lot.”

For Izzo the loss to Iowa wasn’t as much of a problem as how they played. The lack of hustle infuriates him. Has he been able to communicate that to them? “They understood it well. Now don’t take anything away. I mean Iowa, (Anthony) Clemmons had something to do with it. Couple of their other guys had something to do with it. As we said in our film session that running after a loose ball has nothing to do with who’s in and isn’t it has to do with what you do. I think they know it. The greatest part was when Denzel was sitting out you see a lot more sitting out than you do playing. He coached some of those film sessions and I think he has a great understanding that that we didn’t do it. It has not been the norm for us or for any player so I think maybe I am at fault. Maybe the guys didn’t know how to handle my situation a day after what happened. Maybe there is a lot of extenuating circumstances.   Getting beat is OK. Getting beat when you are lacking the effort, you have 16 turnovers, they got every loose ball, they have 32 free throws because we were out of position. Those things are inexcusable and we haven’t seen that much here in the last few years and hopefully we won’t see that again. That doesn’t mean that we will win the game, but we will play a lot more efficiently than we played.”

The Spartans are garnering a lot of national attention. They are one of the few teams that have not suffered unexplainable losses and have remained disciplined. All of that is nice, but for right now the Spartan want to right their only loss and that starts Thursday.

That game tips off at 7PM and can be seen on ESPN.