If there's any coach in the Big Ten that knows what he's doing, it's Tom Izzo. After twenty seasons as head coach of the Michigan State Spartans, he has managed to lead his team to eight regular season Big Ten titles, as well as seven Final Four appearances, of which he has won a national championship. This resume taken into consideration, it perhaps isn't such a surprise that the Spartans made an underdog run to the Final Four this past season, despite being just a #7 seed.
In 2015-16, Izzo brings in another top-20 recruiting class in hopes of making another run deep in the tournament. But this comes at the expense of performing well in the undisputed best conference in college basketball. Let's take a look at what MSU will face in the Big Ten this coming season.
Here it is, @MSU_Basketball fans, your team's 2015-16 @B1GMBBall conference schedule. pic.twitter.com/fobOvw6Xnx— Michigan St. on BTN (@MichiganStOnBTN) August 27, 2015
Three Key Games
at Wisconsin Badgers
Big Ten fan or not, this will be a marquee matchup between two of the best programs in the nation. In a rematch of last year's Big Ten Tournament Championship Game, the Spartans will try to get revenge on Nigel Hayes and the Badgers when they travel to Madison on January 17th. Mark your calendars, it'll be a dog fight.
vs. Maryland Terrapins
With many penciling in Mark Turgeon's Terps as early title favorites, there's little doubt MSU will be out to prove them wrong. Last year, these two teams played each other three times, of which Maryland won two. However, Michigan State was responsible for knocking Melo Trimble and co. out of the Big Ten tournament during the semifinals. Should be a fun one on January 23rd.
at Michigan Wolverines
Barring Duke vs. North Carolina, this game may be the best matchup between in-state rivals this season. Michigan returns superstar guard Caris LeVert while the Spartans counter with a stud of their own in Denzel Valentine. Maize and Green clash in Ann Arbor on February 6th.
Three Probable Wins
at Minnesota Golden Gophers
Minnesota lost key guys Andre Hollins, DeAndre Mathieu and Mo Walker this offseason and will likely struggle this year. Sparty should roll.
at Penn State Nittany Lions
Pat Chambers has a significant amount of rebuilding to do after losing one-man show D.J. Newbill. Unlikely an upset is in the picture.
vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Eddie Jordan welcomes trickster guard Corey Sanders this fall, but the Scarlet Knights won't make much noise on the court this winter. Unfortunately for those out in New Brunswick, the football isn't much better.
Three Possible Upsets
vs. Illinois Fighting Illini
Malcolm Hill dropped 19 when Illinois upset MSU in East Lansing last winter. Despite Illinois being in the bottom half of the Big Ten this season, they still have enough talent to give the Spartans a run when they meet on January 7th.
at Northwestern Wildcats
Northwestern may be the most underrated team in the Big Ten. They also forced overtime in East Lansing when they played the Spartans last season. If Alex Olah gets going, Michigan State may not have the size to answer.
vs. Ohio State Buckeyes
OSU has the strongest recruiting class in the Big Ten for 2015, bringing in four four-star recruits. With this much young talent, the Buckeyes could be very good later in the year.
As they are currently projected, Michigan State should be competing for a Big Ten title this season. With returning veterans like Denzel Valentine and Eron Harris Jr., the Spartans have more than enough talent to win some of these big games in conference play. Based on their strength of schedule, I predict MSU to go 11-4 in the Big Ten. This would likely include losses in two of the key games, as well as one or two from the possible upsets, with the possibility of another in a probable win. Regardless, expect to see the Spartans dancing again once March comes around.