Football season may be right around the corner, but it is never too early to start thinking about the upcoming MSU basketball season, especially considering the Spartans are one of the pre-season favorites to cut down the nets at the end of the season.
The basketball team announced the finalized non-conference schedule on Monday, and my, oh my, what a schedule it is. There have been some tough early season schedules for the Spartans under Tom Izzo, but this one might be the toughest yet.
The Spartans will play a single exhibition contest on October 29th at the Breslin Center when MSU hosts Albion College. The significant note on that game is that Cassius Winston’s brothers Zach and Khy play for Albion so that will be a family affair for the Winston clan.
After that it is right to business, as MSU plays in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden against Kentucky on November 5th.
Then the first home game of the season follows against Binghamton, a team that finished seventh in the America East conference last season.
Then it’s the first true road test as MSU travels to Seton Hall on November 14th as part of the Gavitt Tipoff Games. The Pirates were an NCAA Tournament team last season and were the runners-up in the Big East tournament.
Then comes another home date against Charleston Southern on November 18th. The Buccaneers were a decent team last season, finishing fifth in the Big South Conference and checking in at 160 in the Kenpom ranks.
Then it is off to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational beginning on November 25th. The Spartans first opponent in Maui is Virginia Tech, a Sweet Sixteen team from a year ago. After that it is either Dayton or Georgia, where Izzo may face off against former assistant Tom Crean.
Should the Spartans win both of their first two games in Maui a possible matchup with fellow Champions Classic participant Kansas looms in the championship game.
Then MSU flies back for a home game a week later against…the other Champions Classic team, Duke. That one is part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and is by far the home highlight of the non-conference schedule.
After that things slow down a little and the Spartans will take place in a bit of a tournament of Michigan as they play Oakland at Little Caesars Arena and home dates with Eastern and Western Michigan.
So to recap, in the span of a month MSU will play Kentucky at MSG, Seton Hall on the road, VaTech, and possibly Kansas in Hawaii, and Duke in East Lansing. That is a lot of miles and some really difficult opponents.
The Spartans may come into the season as the pre-season number one team in the country, and they will be tested early and often by that schedule and by the target that ranking will put on their backs.
The good news for MSU fans is that there really shouldn’t be any question as to how good the Spartans resume is come tournament time. They will have plenty of opportunities to notch quad one wins in the non-conference schedule, not to mention how tough the Big Ten is expected to be once again. Should the resume not stack up, it certainly won’t be from lack of opportunities.
That said, the travel and the quality of opponent is likely to take a toll early on, even with what is expected to be a deep and experienced Spartan squad. And even the last three games against the local teams shouldn’t be considered cupcakes with how tough we have seen Oakland play against MSU in the past.
One thing is for sure, this year will be one exciting season for Tom Izzo’s squad, and I for one can’t wait for it to get started.