EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State's basketball program seems to be a bit of a mess.
The Spartans are stumbling on the court — falling from No. 2 to No. 25 — and two players have been kicked off the team in the past five months.
Junior guard Korie Lucious was dismissed from the program Tuesday night for what coach Tom Izzo called "conduct detrimental to the program," less than 48 hours before a matchup with rival Michigan. Guard Chris Allen didn't return for his senior season because he failed to meet all his obligations, according to Izzo, and he transferred to Iowa State.
"My focus is on this team for the remainder of the season," Izzo said after dismissing Lucious.
The day before the surprising announcement, Izzo recalled making a tough decision during his first season as head coach when he wouldn't let freshman Morris Peterson go to the 1995 Maui Invitational because he missed one too many classes.
"It was tough," Izzo said. "But I had to do it."
In his 16th season, the highly successful coach is making another choice that could hurt the Spartans in the short term while hoping it helps them down the road.
Lucious made a game-winning 3-pointer against Maryland in the second round of the NCAA tournament last year as he filled in for injured star point guard Kalin Lucas and helped Michigan State reach the Final Four for the sixth time in 12 seasons.
He pleaded guilty in September to misdemeanor reckless driving, resulting in a suspension for one exhibition game and the Spartans' season-opening victory against Eastern Michigan. He was also suspended for a game last season for missing class.
Izzo is left to back up a slowly improving Lucas with senior point guard Mike Kebler, a former walk-on, or freshman shooting guard Keith Appling.
"Many times in these situations, and I don't know the particulars, but another kid getting an opportunity to play more minutes ends up being very positive for a team," Michigan coach John Beilein said Wednesday.
So the Spartans (12-7, 4-3 Big Ten) will host Michigan (11-9, 1-6) on Thursday night without Lucious and Allen. Based on the way the lopsided series has gone in recent years, Michigan State might be OK without them.
The Spartans have won 11 straight at the Breslin Center against Michigan — by an average of 19-plus points — and have lost just three of the last 21 games in the rivalry.
In the late 1990s, the Wolverines went 5-0 against Izzo. He gets angry with anyone who refers to the 1,000-plus days that have passed since Michigan has beaten Michigan State in men's basketball or football.
"That is so stupid," Izzo said. "I was here when they beat us so bad in football year after year and so bad in basketball that I was embarrassed. It was only five games, but they beat us by an average of 35 a game — unless I held the ball and lost by 30."
Michigan junior forward Zack Novak grew up in Indiana, but he has picked up on the intensity of the rivalry that hasn't been dulled even though it has been lopsided.
"I hate them just as much as guys who have been here their whole life," Novak said. "I hate those colors, green and white. It's nothing personal. ... Michigan State hates us, we hate them."
AP Sports Writer Noah Trister in Ann Arbor, Mich., contributed to this report.