Michigan State will open season against UConn in Germany

March 22, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Michigan State Spartans mascot Sparty performs during the first half in the semifinals of the west region of the 2012 NCAA men's basketball tournament against the Louisville Cardinals at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewickel-US PRESSWIRE

Just about a year after they opened the 2011-12 season with a loss to North Carolina aboard the USS Carl Vinson in San Diego, Michigan State will start its 2012-13 campaign at another unorthodox locale.

This time, they'll face UConn on Friday, November 9 at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. The game, which will be televised on ESPN, will be played in front of 2,500 to 3,000 men and women of the United States military.

Despite opening last season with consecutive losses to UNC and Duke, Tom Izzo and the Spartans couldn't be more excited to tip off overseas.

"I asked my players if they wanted to do it and they were jacked,'' said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. "Has a college team ever played a regular-season game in Europe? I don't think so. It will be cool. We're going to a base in another country. That's pretty cool."

According to a statement issued by MSU athletic director Mark Hollis, another reason for his school to jump at the opportunity to play in front of the troops is Izzo's tremendous respect for the U.S. military.

"During Coach Izzo's outreach trips to visit and coach our troops overseas, along with our recent experience in San Diego aboard the USS Carl Vinson, we have all developed deep admiration and respect for the men and women that serve in our armed forces. Those troops, many the same age as our student-athletes, protect the freedom that we enjoy every day. It is our responsibility to give reflection and support to these men and women that currently serve and have served in the past. As such, we appreciate the consideration by the Department of Defense to allow NCAA competition to be a reflection of the support our entire nation feels for our troops."

There won't be much time for the Spartans to rest between the showdown with UConn and their Championship Classic game against Kanas the following Tuesday, but Izzo is not concerned.

"We'll play four days later, but who cares,'' Izzo said. "The players want to do it. UConn has a really good backcourt. We'll be a little young, but we'll have a pretty good team."
Although Connecticut had Alex Oriakhi transfer to Missouri and saw both Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb declare for the NBA draft, they'll still have veteran guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright on board to challenge Michigan State with. Plus, talented freshman wing Omar Calhoun will be making his college debut with promises of being an impact player right away.

Of course, Michigan State lost 2011-12 Big Ten Player of the Year Draymond Green to graduation, but Keith Appling and Branden Dawson are poised to have the Spartans challenging for the Big Ten title once again.

In an era when many coaches shy away from super challenging non-conference schedules, it's refreshing for Michigan State to so eagerly accept the challenge of playing UConn overseas. Plus, with the opening of the college basketball season being the most underwhelming of any organized sport, we need more match-ups like this to get casual fans hyped about November hoops.
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