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Michigan State Men’s Basketball: Northern Arizona Lumberjacks preview

J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome on Feb. 26, 2017
Kevin Knight/The Only Colors

The Michigan State Spartans begin another season of men’s college basketball tonight as the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks visit the Breslin Center. It marks a number of firsts for both teams including the first time the two will play one another.

Most recently, Chris Fowler was on the coaching staff at NAU, but left this past offseason to join former MSU assistant Dwayne Stephens staff at Western Michigan after Stephens was named the new head coach in April. Fowler played at Central Michigan in college before spending two seasons as a graduate assistant at Michigan State.

As for the Spartans, the Lumberjacks are the only unranked opponent on the schedule for the first several games. The first two games including NAU have a western tilt as MSU will also face No. 2 Gonzaga on Friday on the USS Abraham Lincoln flight deck in San Diego, California. Stay tuned later this week for more coverage on that unique matchup here at The Only Colors.

As for tonight’s matchup, onto the Lumberjacks.

  • When: Monday, Nov. 7 at 7:00 p.m. ET/6:00 CT
  • Where: Breslin Center - East Lansing, MI
  • TV: N/A, streaming on B1G+ only
  • Announcers: Brendan Schabath (play-by-play), Zach Surdenik (analyst), Veronica Bolanos (sideline)
  • Radio: TCF Bank Spartan Media Network; Will Tieman (play-by-play), Matt Steigenga (color analyst)
  • Flagship Stations: Lansing: WMMQ (94.9 FM)/WJIM (1240 AM); Detroit: WJR (760 AM); Grand Rapids: WBFX (101.3 FM)
  • Affiliates: 24 affiliates listed at
  • Betting Odds: Michigan State is a 21-point favorite with the Over/under at 142.5 per DraftKings Sportsbook.

Northern Arizona Lumberjacks

NAU Lumberjack mascot statue outside the J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome
Kevin Knight/The Only Colors

Tonight’s matchup marks the first ever meeting between Northern Arizona and Michigan State. It also marks just the second meeting between NAU and a Big Ten program. The Lumberjacks faced Northwestern in Portland as part of the Far West Classic on Dec. 12, 1987. Northern Arizona fell 79-74 in overtime to NU.

Hence it will also mark the first time NAU has played in a Big Ten arena. The visit to East Lansing is also the second trip to Michigan in program history for the Lumberjacks. Northern Arizona played at Eastern Michigan in 1968.

Finally, it marks a return visit to his home state for Upper Peninsula native and NAU head coach Shane Burcar who grew up in Hancock, Michigan and is a graduate of Hancock High School. A 2004 Ottawa graduate, Burcar is entering his fifth season as head of the Lumberjacks after working as an assistant coach from 2018-2019 before being named interim head coach for the 2019-2020 season. He had the interim tag removed ahead of the 2020-2021 season and holds a 31-53 overall record and 19-35 mark in conference play. Burcar is also 14-26 in road games as head coach at NAU.

As for the 2022-2023 Northern Arizona squad, the team returns all five starters and seven total players from last season including Preseason Big Sky All-Conference Team honoree Jalen Cone. The junior guard is one of the top players in the league and started in 31 of 32 games last season for NAU. Cone averaged 18.8 points, 3.6 assists, and 3.0 rebounds per game while playing 34.7 minutes per game.

Redshirt senior forward Nik Mains and redshirt sophomore forward Carson Towt started in all 32 games last season, while redshirt junior forward Keith Haymon started in 25 games last season and 12 the season prior. Mains is the second leading returning scorer from last season with 11.5 points per game and added 5.1 rebounds per game. Towt is the leading returning rebounder with 8.8 boards per game, along with 8.4 points. Haymon averaged 9.8 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. He is projected to be coming off the bench this season, however.

Ezekiel Richards, a redshirt sophomore center, rounds out the returning starters, but is expected to come off the bench this season. South Dakota transfer Xavier Fuller is projected to join the starting lineup. The graduate guard averaged 9.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game for the Coyotes, while playing 24.5 mpg. Fuller arrived at South Dakota following a standout career at Scottsdale Community College that included NJCAA Division II first-team All-American honors his sophomore season. He averaged 22.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game that season, while also being named ACCAC Player of the Week six times and NJCAA National Player of the Week twice.

Fuller joins 10 newcomers to the roster this season that also includes two other transfers. Liam Lloyd, a sophomore guard, joins NAU from Grand Canyon and is projected to join the starting lineup. Sophomore guard Trent McLaughlin returns to his home state after playing at Central Connecticut State last season.

Northern Arizona is looking to snap a number of losing streaks. The Lumberjacks have not won a season opener since defeating Jacksonville University to open the 2018-2019 season and the first win in a road opener since 2013. The past three season openers have all been losses to the Arizona Wildcats. A win over Michigan State would mark the first win over a Power Five conference opponent since defeating Arizona State on Dec. 17, 2011 and the first win over a Big Ten program in program history. It would also snap an eight-game losing streak overall that dates back to Feb. 12, 2022.

Northern Arizona
2021-22 Record: 9-23 (5-15 Big Sky)
Head Coach: Shane Burcar
Record at NAU: 31-53 (4th year)
Career Record: Same

Michigan State
2021-22 Record: 23-13 (11-9 Big Ten)
Head Coach: Tom Izzo
Record at MSU: 666-267 (28th year)
Career Record: Same