Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE
Great team matchups are fine, but part of what I love most about basketball are individual ones. Here are 10 I'm looking forward to this season.
Basketball is obviously a team game and, particularly at the college level, 'TEAM TEAM TEAM' is always drilled into everyone's heads by coaches, players and fans. But I'm also a NBA fan at heart, and part of loving the NBA is loving the individuality that the game of basketball allows. I love fundamentally sound play, help defense, passing and all other great team concepts as much as anyone, and Michigan State's program at its best has done those things better than anyone, but I'm also excited about this season for individual reasons. MSU has some really interesting individual talents this season and I'm excited to see how they do head-to-head against other talented players on the schedule.
Here are 10 matchups I'm looking forward to. Feel free to add your picks in the comments.
OK, OK ... so this selection is a bit of the homer in me, since I was an Oakland student before I was a Michigan State student. But Mondy, a transfer from Providence, can really play and has Oakland fans really excited this season. Mondy is a big point guard who Oakland coach Greg Kampe has compared to former Michigan PG Darius Morris. Appling, though he may not be strictly a point guard, is one of the best defensive players in the country and as Michigan State's lockdown perimeter guy, he'll likely see a lot of time assigned to Monday. I'm more excited for this matchup from an Oakland fan perspective to see if Mondy is the real deal, but I could also watch Appling play defense against anyone.
A matchup of two talented, classic low-post, back-to-the-basket players who both just happen to be a little on the doughy side? Yeah, I'll watch that.
8. Branden Dawson vs. anyone
I don't want to set my expectations for what Dawson can accomplish too high, but it's hard not to considering how quickly he recovered from what could've been a career-threatening knee injury. I don't think it's reasonable to expect him to have the same athleticism he did before, but there's probably no Spartan I'm just flat out happier to see on the court doing anything than Dawson.
This is kind of the anti-Nix/McGary matchup. Payne is definitely the far better offensive player of these two, but Williams is a really good defender, athletic and a shot-blocker. Watching these two contest shots on the defense end will be fun.
Harris is going to be an impact freshman in the conference this season and Marble could be one of the most improved players on one of the most improved teams. Marble is lanky, athletic and should be an improved defender this season. It will be interesting to see if these two are matched up a lot when the teams play.
UConn's guards like to shoot. A lot. Michigan State's three guards they'll counter with probably won't provide the scoring that UConn's two starters will -- UConn just simply has to have Napier and Boatright shoot a lot this season to have a chance -- but if Michigan State's trio can be pesky defensively and efficient offensively, the opening game should be a blowout. Also, honorable mention here -- I'm really looking forward to Kevin Ollie facing a legend like Tom Izzo so early in his coaching career.
4. Michigan State vs. Ohio State - Deshaun Thomas vs. Dawson
By the time MSU is into Big Ten season, the Spartans will need Dawson in more than just a 'happy to have him on the court' kind of way. He's a potential lockdown defender if he's healthy, and Thomas might be his biggest test of the season.
3. Michigan State vs. Texas - Myck Kabongo vs. Appling
A highly recruited, can't miss, likely one-and-done star who disappointed a bit and wasn't a one-and-done after all? Yeah, I think Appling could get excited to get after a player like that defensively.
2. Michigan State vs. Indiana - MSU frontcourt vs. IU frontcourt
Cody Zeller is the Big Ten's best player, but he's not alone in the Indiana frontcourt as the Hoosiers also have Christian Watford. Payne and Nix are potentially a great defensive duo -- Payne as the rim-protector, Nix as the one-on-one defender who holds his position -- and one of only a couple Big Ten teams with the frontcourt depth to possibly slow Indiana's talented bigs.
1. Michigan State vs. Michigan - Trey Burke vs. Keith Appling
This is an obvious choice. Burke is probably the best guard in the Big Ten and one of the best in the country. Appling is perhaps the best defensive guard in the Big Ten and one of the best in the country.