The past two weeks, it’s been talked about the difficulty of the non-conference schedule of Michigan State. That is always the talk each and every season Tom Izzo coaches. He enjoys to put his team against tough opponents early to prepare the Spartans against the fierce competition in the Big Ten.
After defending against Duke, North Carolina, Gonzaga, and other opponents, the last weekend of the 2011 calendar year has Michigan State starting its conference play against Indiana. This is a trap game. That’s a guarantee because the Hoosiers are close to becoming a solid team against in the Big Ten under the direction of Tom Crean. Crean has Cody Zeller coming into his lineup this season along with a bunch of other good young pieces of talent. The other issue is that Michigan State might be walking into that game thinking about what they just got from Santa, and how they sadly have to spend New Years' in Nebraska.
The conference schedule that the Spartans have is among the toughest in the Big Ten, if not the toughest. The teams that they play only once this season are Iowa, Northwestern, Indiana, and Penn State. While each of those Big Ten teams have some talent, they don’t compare to the upper-echelon, and none have been successful against MSU of late. Of the first five conference games for the Spartans, their toughest test will come at the beginning of January at Wisconsin. No one fares well in Madison against the Badgers. The Badgers are going to be looking for a new identity this season without two of their top players. Wisconsin will be expecting a lot of Jordan Taylor, as they should with the talent that he has.
Four out of the next six games after playing at Northwestern are at home for the Spartans. The two road contests come at Michigan and at Illinois. Both of these teams have a lot of talent on the court and should be looking towards a NCAA tournament bid. Fortunately for Michigan State, both the Fighting Illini and the Wolverines have a tendency to make critical mistakes against opponents, and tend to drop a game to an opponent they shouldn't lose to (especially at home). The Spartans should win either one of those games along with a few victories at home against the likes of Purdue, Minnesota, Penn State, and Michigan.
After hosting Penn State in early February, the competition gets really rough for the Spartans. The only guarantee win might be at home against Nebraska. During the run of the final seven games on the conference schedule, Michigan State has to go into Ohio State, Indiana, Minnesota, and Purdue. None of these teams are necessarily easy to win at. Take Minnesota as an example. The Spartans have won the last two seasons at Williams arena, but it took a game-winning shot by Kalin Lucas two seasons ago, and a brilliant comeback last season. MSU has to face Wisconsin and Ohio State at home as well in the closing portion of the B1G conference schedule.
By having to rely on incoming freshman Branden Dawson along with a point guard that has never been a true pg is a scary situation for the Spartans. Yet, they have a veteran forward in Draymond Green and others to carry the load. The loss of Kalin Lucas will be obvious over the course of the season, but the Michigan State Spartans should overcome much adversity and triumph against in a Big Ten.