After a premature end to last season and a tumultuous summer, Michigan State’s 2020-2021 basketball campaign is just around the corner. It will certainly be one unlike any other and I guess first of all everyone has to cross their fingers that everything goes fairly well regarding all the non-basketball stuff, or at least as well as things can go these days. Nonetheless, the excitement after a longer summer than usual is as big as ever so let’s dive into some burning questions before the season opener (against Eastern Michigan, Nov. 25 at the Breslin Center):
So, about this COVID thing…?
As has been the case with many other major sports around the globe, the college basketball season will look a lot different this year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As of now you won’t see any fans in the stands at the Breslin Center, as will be the case for most college programs. You can be sure though that there are rampant talks going on behind the scenes, especially with many smaller schools who depend on the revenue more than big time programs. But precaution is rightfully leading most decisions at the moment, which is more than understandable. As we have seen in recent months, things can change on a dime so you’ll never know what will happen in February for example. The NCAA is planning to move March Madness to one site only and is currently in talks with the state of Indiana and the city of Indianapolis, the site of the 2021 Final Four. Other measures regarding the pandemic include mask commitments, travel restrictions and constant testing. On a side note: To everyone affected by the virus – like our very own head coach Tom Izzo – all the best from Spartan Nation!
How will it affect the players that no fans will be allowed into the arenas?
It is a tricky question and like with most of the others, history will answer it. On the one hand there will certainly be plenty of road games that all of a sudden won’t look as menacing any more, but on the other hand the Breslin Center sure will not be as intimidating without the Izzone either. In the end, a lot more emphasis will be put on execution, talent and overall quality of the teams which should help MSU more often than not. The Spartans are an emotional team, though, who love to play aggressive and with plenty of enthusiasm. Players will most likely be affected very differently as all their personalities are different as well. A quiet, shy character might enjoy the more calm setting and someone else will probably miss playing off the crowd. As an example, Buzz Williams said that Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat, who he had coached in college at Marquette, would probably play every game of his life in a bubble because he could concentrate just on basketball without any distractions there. Now MSU and college basketball aren’t playing in a bubble like the NBA did, but there is certainly something about being in a different environment that can lead to some players outperforming their previous showings.
Which Michigan State player will surprise a lot of people?
Hopefully all of them will surprise in a good way, but out of the gate many people will look to Foster Loyer for major improvement. Tom Izzo has raved about the small junior point guard as he apparently had his best offseason yet in East Lansing. Since freshman A.J. Hoggard recently had a smaller knee surgery that forced him to miss two weeks, Loyer should get plenty of opportunities to show that he really has taken a step forward. He won’t have much time though to get acclimated to a newer or more expanded role as some big time games loom early on the horizon. I would reserve the optimism after we see that he can really hang with better competition. Another player who should have no problem to perform against high level athletes at least is Julius Marble. Now the MSU frontcourt rotation is crowded and Joey Hauser will take plenty of the power forward minutes, but Marble has a lot more to offer than people give him credit for and he is one of the more rugged guys on the team. That should earn him points with the coaching staff as should his aggressive demeanor on the glass.
What games should you mark on your calendar?
As was the case with the players, hopefully all of them. Some contests of course are more anticipated than others and typical for the Spartans under Tom Izzo the team will face plenty of tremendous competition throughout the season. As of now, eight opponents (12 games) on their schedule are ranked in the preseason and the Big Ten Conference figures to be very competitive this year as well with the Spartans only projected to finish fourth by some preseason polls. We’ll see about that. The biggest matchup on paper looks to be the Champions Classic game at Cameron Indoor Stadium against Duke on Dec. 1, a game where MSU will hopefully avenge last season’s loss at Breslin. Another marquee offseason contest is the game against Virginia, aka the Hauser Hoops Happening, just eight days later. MSU ends the season with a great rivalry facing Michigan at the Breslin Center on March 7.
Will anybody break MSU’s title streak in the Big Ten?
The Spartans have won or tied for the Big Ten Regular Season Championship in three consecutive years and while they still have a while to go to challenge Kansas‘ streak it would certainly be nice to keep this run going. Plenty of experts see one of other powers taking over with the likes of Iowa, Illinois or Wisconsin getting plenty of preseason attention. I guess it is safe to say though that none of these programs comes even close to challenging the winning intangibles, the experience or the pedigree of Michigan State and its coaching staff. You can have all the talent in the world, when push comes to shove, it takes a little more to be a true champion. What did the great Vince Lombardi once say: “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all time thing. You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.” With that said, the Spartans will certainly have their hands full with the competition in the Big Ten but I would never count them out before they aren’t beaten.
Does Michigan State have any realistic national title hopes?
Hell yeah, don’t we have them every year?! It’s just another season of being a top tier college basketball program and the Spartans certainly could have what it takes to go all the way in March. We are truly privileged to be able to say that almost every year and in a probably quite extreme, crazy season like the upcoming one that might be more true than ever. Tom Izzo and his teams have gained a lot of experience over the year and the coaches are probably a lot more accustomed to dealing with situations out of left field like many others in the nation are. Now of course, for MSU to compete for a national title a lot of things have to fall into place. Rocket Watts has to own the point guard position, Aaron Henry has to emerge as a true star and some of the young big men have to step up. But hey, never say never.
Last but not least: Doesn’t it feel good?
As a college basketball fan the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament in March was a gut-wrenching experience. Of course there are so many other things more important in our lives — as all of us basically experienced this year if we didn’t knew it already — but in the end many small things and small joys makes us go as well. We care about Michigan State, we care about college basketball and we love it from the bottom of our hearts. You can close your eyes to the things you don’t want to see, but you can never close your heart to the things you don’t want to feel. So yes, it really hurt that we couldn’t see Cassius Winston and his boys play March Madness. But all this is in the past now, let us all hope for the best, a great season and good health for everyone out there. GO GREEN!