Tom Izzo's crew faced no such pressure Tuesday night when it took the floor against Kansas in the Champions Classic at the United Center.
"The one advantage of basketball over football," Izzo said on the eve of the game, "is that you play these games and it doesn't ruin the year (if you lose). Sometimes it makes the year. You figure out what your deficiencies are and move forward."
Any deficiencies were overshadowed by having the best player on the floor — Denzel Valentine.
The senior guard led the Spartans to a stirring 79-73 victory after they trailed by nine points in the second half.
"The kid, he's like Draymond," Izzo said. "There are a million things that he's not good enough at. But winning, work ethic and basketball IQ, those are all things he's good at.
"Everyone will be impressed with the triple-double. I'm impressed with the one turnover."
Valentine, destined to be a Player of the Year candidate in the Big Ten, credited his teammates for hitting shots to boost his assists total. He also praised fellow guard Bryn Forbes for keeping his energy up in the game's final minutes.
"I was tired and ready to quit but he stayed in my ear," Valentine said.
The No. 13 Spartans took the floor as five-point underdogs to fourth-ranked Kansas, which started seniors Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor (Julian High School), juniors Wayne Selden Jr. and Frank Mason III and sophomore Devonte Graham. Ellis scored 21 to lead the Jayhawks.
"A mature Bill Self is tough to beat," ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg said.
So is any kind of a Tom Izzo team.
After trailing by almost double digits, the Spartans cut it to 49-46 on a nifty reverse layup by Eron Harris, the 6-foot-3 guard who transferred from West Virginia. That followed a sweet play, as Valentine hit Matt Costello on a lob.
Give Costello extra points for toughness: A few plays earlier, he landed hard after going up for a rebound. He couldn't come down on his feet because Traylor was sprawled out on the floor.
Valentine's corner 3-pointer gave his team a 65-64 lead, and freshman guard Matt McQuaid hit a 3 off the dribble for a 68-66 edge.
McQuaid hit another huge 3 to put his team up 75-71 — and followed that with a rejection of Mason on a drive.
"Who would come into the United Center and knock down two gigantic 3s on an NBA floor?" Valentine said. "I wouldn't have done that as a freshman. I was shocked. Wow. He said, 'I got you, big bro.'"
The victory certainly should only strengthen Izzo's resolve to schedule ''up.''
"It's what we do — and it has been successful for us," he said before the game. "But you do have to win some of these games."
They got it done Tuesday in extremely impressive fashion.
"Hopefully," said Izzo, a huge football fan, "we're leading the way for a phenomenal week for the Spartans."