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Breaking down the non-conference basketball schedule

MSU will face some tough competition early in the year, all of it away from the Breslin Center.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Michigan State Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State’s full basketball schedule was announced earlier this week. With the increase in Big Ten games going into effect this year, the non-conference schedule gets a little tighter. Let’s take a look at the full non-conference slate, as well as the two early Big Ten games and see what stands out.

Last year the Spartans were punished for their non-conference slate not stacking up to the standard that MSU has been used to in the past. This year the schedule should get back to being the type of test that Tom Izzo’s teams are used to going through in the early part of the season.

MSU will start off the season with the Champions Classic, this year being played in Indianapolis, where they will face Kansas. After a trio of home dates against some non-power conference foes, the Spartans head out west to participate in the Las Vegas Invitational over Thanksgiving weekend. They will face UCLA in the opener, and either Texas or UNC in the second game. Then four days after that they head to Louisville to take on the Cardinals in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Then come the two early conference games, starting with a road trip to Rutgers three days after their game against Louisville, before coming back home to play Iowa on December 3rd. Then comes the final big non-conference test, with MSU traveling to Gainesville to take on the Florida Gators.

The non-conference schedule wraps up with three home dates against Green Bay, Oakland, and Northern Illinois.

So let’s get into this a little more. First here is the home portion of the non-conference schedule along with dates and the team’s final kenpom ranking last year:

-November 11th vs Florida Gulf Coast (127, NIT team)

-November 14th vs Louisiana-Monroe (230)

-November 18th vs Tennessee Tech (219)

-December 16th vs Green Bay (263)

-December 21st vs Oakland (175)

-December 29th vs Northern Illinois (249)

MSU also plays Iowa at home on December 3rd as part of the early Big Ten slate.

My first takeaway from this is how brutal it is for season ticket holders. There is not one marquee game in the bunch, so you are basically paying for the Big Ten season to get your money’s worth.

The second major takeaway is that Michigan State will go from November 18th to December 3rd without playing a game at the Breslin Center. This can come into play, not just in difficult games on the road or at neutral sites, but it also cuts into practice time. And for a team that is going to have quite a few different pieces this year, that could play a factor in their development early on.

NCAA Basketball: North Florida at Michigan State
Cassius Winston will lead the Spartans through a tough early schedule
Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Now here is the road/neutral non-conference schedule:

-November 6th vs Kansas (9, NCAA) in Champions Classic in Indianapolis

-November 22nd vs UCLA (56, NCAA) in Las Vegas Invitational

-November 23rd vs Texas (36, NCAA) or UNC (8, NCAA) in Las Vegas Invitational

-November 27th at Louisville (38, NIT) in Big Ten/ACC Challenge

-December 8th at Florida (22, NCAA)

MSU also has a road game at Rutgers on November 30th.

So this is where the schedule is really stacked. Five games away from home against four NCAA teams from last year and an NIT team, all who finished in the top 56 in the Kenpom rankings last season. Two of those games are true road games, with the other three neutral site matchups. This will certainly test the Spartans early on.

In addition to the level of competition, MSU will have a bunch of games, and travel, packed into a short period of time. In an eight day span from November 22nd to November 30th, Michigan State will play four games away from home, in three different cities. They will play two games in two days in Las Vegas, head back home for a couple days, then go to Louisville, come back for another couple days, and then head to New Jersey, before flying home to face Iowa a couple days later.

That works out to around 5,100 miles of travel from the time they leave East Lansing to head to Las Vegas, until they come home from New Jersey. Most of this traveling will take place over the course of a little over a week. Throw in four games against top level competition and that is shaping up to be a heck of a test for this team early in the season.

The good news in all this is that, assuming the Spartans can pick up some wins in these games, their non-conference resume should not be lacking in merit. On the flip side, if wins are tough to come by in these games, MSU will have to do some major work in the conference schedule to build up their post-season credentials.