Tom Izzo has always been the type of coach to challenge his teams in the non-conference portion of the season. Throughout the years people have come to respect him and the MSU program for it because of all the success it’s brought the Spartans in the Big Ten Conference season as well as the NCAA tournament. This year is no different as Michigan State has entered into a couple of showcase tournaments and other challenging games. Let’s take a closer look at the big games and hurdles the Spartans will be facing to start the 2014-2015 campaign.
Champions Classic Doubleheader: Michigan State returns to the venue that treated them well a year ago in the inaugural showcase event. The Spartans defeated then number one Kentucky 78-74 in a game that catapulted them to atop the college basketball rankings to kick start the year. This year’s game features another basketball blue blood as Duke will roll into the United Center with a team that, on paper, looks as good as Kentucky did a season ago. Unfortunately for Sparty, with the losses of Keith Appling and Adreian Payne to graduation, as well as Gary Harris to the NBA and Kenny Kaminski to a dismissal, this year’s team will head into Chicago with much more to prove. Duke boasts a stellar freshman class led by point guard Trey Lyles and the nation’s top center prospect in Jahlil Okafor. Most experts have Duke as one of the top three to four teams in the country to begin the year. That’s not to say Michigan State will be any slouch, Tom Izzo is far too good of a coach for that. A starting five that looks like Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling up front, Brendan Dawson and Denzel Valentine on the wings and Travis Trice running the point looks very formidable. However, the Spartans will need Alvin Ellis to take a big leap for his sophomore year as well as the incoming freshman class to make an impact off the bench if they look to have the depth going forward.
Orlando Classic: The weekend following the Champions Classic, Michigan State will head down to Florida and play in a loaded Orlando Classic eight-team tournament. The tournament features heavy weight Kansas on the other side of the bracket, led by ESPN’s 2nd ranked recruit in the country, Cliff Alexander. Assuming the Spartans get by Rider in the knockout stage they will face either Georgia Tech or Marquette, two traditionally good programs. The only other team MSU could run into is Tennessee, however, it would take a pretty good early season upset of Kansas for the Volunteers to advance to the title game.
Big Ten/ACC Challenge: The final headline game that Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans get to play in the non-conference comes in the form of the storied Big Ten/ACC challenge. The draw leaves MSU headed down to South Bend, Indiana to take on a Notre Dame program that is participating in its first season as a member of the ACC. Notre Dame joined Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville in making the switch from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference as part of 2012’s big conference realignment. A great matchup every time the Spartans and Fighting Irish take the gridiron, it should be another intriguing game when they move it to the hardwood on December 3rd.
Spartan fans have much to look forward to from the get go with this program. Michigan State is loaded up with the basketball heavyweights once again as they continue to prove to its fans and this country that they are among the elite programs in America. In case you ever forget, Tom Izzo reminds us every year when the schedules get released.