The 2013-14 season did not end happily for Tom Izzo and his Michigan State Spartans. Sure, they were able to "upset" No. 1 seeded Virginia in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament, but the club's Final Four aspirations fell apart when they lost to the eventual champion UConn Huskies.
With Keith Appling, Gary Harris, and Adreian Payne all headed out the door, expectations at the national level won't be quite as high for this Spartan squad as they were last season. On the other hand, as long as Izzo is in East Lansing, Spartan fans are going to expect a championship run in nearly every campaign.
As usual, there will be some challenges in Michigan State's non-conference schedule, but we all know the push for a title starts in earnest at the end of December with Big Ten play.
The Big Ten schedule kicks off with a battle against conference newcomer Maryland in the Breslin Center on December 30. That game will be a rematch of the epic 2010 NCAA Tournament game played between the two teams.
The Maryland faithful will get not one, but two chances for revenge against the Spartans, as the Terps are one of four teams that Michigan State plays twice. With 14 teams now in the Big Ten, there are now more single plays than double plays in league play.
Besides Maryland, Michigan State will also play Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan two times each. The Michigan games in particular should be riveting. Even with both sides losing extraordinary talent from last year's teams, the rivalry should continue to shine as one of the Big Ten's finest.
With Illinois and Indiana both coming off of disappointing seasons, the Spartans may be able to take advantage and come away with the wins necessary to make an 18th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance a reality.