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Veterans' Classic Preview: Michigan State @ Navy

Can Izzo's reloaded Spartans team start their season with a convincing win in hostile territory?

Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Opponent: United States Naval Academy
Date / Time: Friday, November 14th - 9 PM Eastern
Location: Alumni Hall, Annapolis, Maryland
TV: CBS Sports Network

Harris, Payne and Appling are gone, and by now Michigan State fans are already tired of hearing about it. Returning are seniors Branden Dawson and Travis Trice, along with juniors Denzel Valentine and Matt Costello. Those four along with Cleveland State transfer Bryn Forbes are expected to start for coach Tom Izzo.

The Spartans are starting on the road against Navy, but at least they will be playing  in a gym and not on an aircraft carrier. Michigan State will be the first B1G team to play at Navy since Ohio State in 1932, a game which the Buckeyes lost.

Getting to Know Navy

The Midshipmen have finished last in the Patriot League every year since 2012, and no one expects them to make any strides this season. Historically, Navy has had varying levels of success, but they haven't made the tournament since 1998. The last time they won an NCAA tournament game was in 1986 when David Robinson led them to the Elite Eight before falling to Duke. Coincidentally, the only time Navy has ever played MSU was the following year when the Robinson-led Midshipmen beat the Spartans 91-90 in East Lansing.

The Midhipmen are coached by former Penn State head coach Ed DeChelis. DeChellis left the Nittany Lions for Navy after the 2011 NCAA tournament and since then has only won a total of 20 games in three years and only six of those wins came in Patriot League play. The two biggest victories so far in DeChellis' tenure have been back-to-back wins @Army, although the Midshipmen have failed to defeat their rivals in Annapolis.

Leading this year's team will be seniors Worth Smith and Brandon Venturini, both of whom averaged over 11 points a game last season. A third scoring option for Navy will be junior point guard Tilman Dunbar. Dunbar was an all-freshman team selection in 2012-13, but only played in ten games last year due to a suspension for a rules violation.

What to Watch For

Navy can surprise teams with their unique style of offense and can upset big name football. The focus in this game will be on the newcomers for Michigan State and how well they mesh with the returnees. The most highly-touted freshman is the Bahamian point guard Lourawls Nairn. Nairn is a small, but lightning quick player, who is already drawing comparisons to Mateen Cleeves, from Cleeves himself. Nairn will likely never lead the team in scoring, but has been praised for his leadership and drive to win, as well as his speed (get used to hearing about that a lot during broadcasts).

The biggest question for the season for the Spartans is how well can they replace all of the leadership and scoring they lost from last year. It is hard to believe they won't, Izzo's teams never seem to lack for leadership. Dawson is expected to pick up a lot of the slack, but outside of him it may take time before we see who emerges as the second scoring option. Trice, Valentine and Forbes all have the potential, along with Alvin Ellis, but while we may start to get answers in this game, we won't know for sure until later in the year.

One interesting quirk about this game is that neither team has a player listed above 6'9". However, it will be curious to see how the differences in athleticism between the two frontcourts makes an impact. Dawson and Costello are both quality shot blockers, but on the other end Navy will likely struggle to adequately protect the rim.


Ed DeChellis has knocked off a ranked Spartans squad twice before while at Penn State, but only has a 4-14 record overall against Tom Izzo. Izzo doesn't have much to worry about this time around however. Michigan State should win this game comfortably and by at least a double-digit margin. The Midshipmen will not have an answer for Dawson and will struggle to score against MSU's defense. We will likely have a chance to see a lot of the newcomers as the starters will end their night with a good portion of the second half still to go.