Buckets of internet ink have been spilled already around the freshmen class of Miles Bridges, Joshua Langford, and company paired with some upperclassmen ready to bust out. With good reason: Izzo’s incoming crew is the third ranked class in the country behind Duke and Kentucky, featuring talent the likes of which haven’t been seen in East Lansing since. . . .maybe ever?
With the loss of four-year stalwarts Denzel Valentine and Matt Costello, sharp-shooting transfer Bryn Forbes, raw freshman sensation Deyonta Davis, along with Marvin Clark and Javon Bess transferring, AND Ben Carter and Gavin Schilling being sidelined by injury (my goodness, just typing that all out in one sentence makes my head spin), Coach Izzo will play a gang of freshman at four out of five positions.
They’re ranked #12 in the newly released AP Rankings but just how good will they be? Let’s break-down the Sparty schedule and project their season.
Friday, November 11th vs. #10 Arizona in the Armed Forces Classic (Honolulu, Hawaii)
College basketball gets off to a banging start next Friday night with not one but two dynamite match-ups featuring Big Ten teams. Sean Miller’s Arizona Wildcats are looking to bounce back after their own first round exit. They boast their own top ten recruiting class, skilled sophomore wing Allonzo Trier, and two seven-footers down low.
I think their size and skill is too much for a Michigan State squad with no one healthy over 6’8” and still figuring itself out.
Tuesday, November 15th vs #2 Kentucky at Madison Square Garden
The sixth annual year of the Champions Classic keeps the good times rolling against John Calipari’s annual conveyor belt of blue chip athletes. This should be a fun, and potentially sloppy contest, for two very talented teams. Sparty actually has a winning record in this series, but I think they’ll come back to earth against the finest group of players Kentucky has seen since. . .um. . .last year.
Friday and Sundays, November 18th and 20th: Home vs. Mississippi Valley State, Florida Golf Coast
Tuesday-Thursday, November 23-25th: Battle 4 Atlantis
The yearly Bahamas pre-season tournament over Thanksgiving week starts with St. John’s on Tuesday night, followed by Baylor or VCU, and then one of either Wichita St./Old Dominion/LSU/Louisville. Supposing Sparty wins the first two, let’s pencil in a contest with another top fifteen team, #13 Louisville. And this one they win.
Tuesday, November 29th at #1 Duke in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge
No one will fault Izzo if the Spartans have two or three losses heading into Cameron and no one should fault them if they get blasted by the #1 team in the country. Despite injuries to Giles and Tatum, Duke is loaded with athletes and should be well-rested.
Rest of the Non-Con: Home vs. Oral Roberts, Youngstown State, Tennessee Tech, Northeastern, Oakland.
These betters be W’s.
Verdict: 5-0 (10-3 overall in a gruesome first six weeks)
Sparty gets rewarded for their tough early scheduling with a relatively breezy conference schedule.
Yes, I know nothing is earned in the Big Ten and lonely trips across the snow-drenched plains of the Midwest mean anything can happen. But it shakes out nicely for them.
In nine home games, they only host two ranked team (#15 Purdue and #9 Wisconsin). If everything is gelling right by February 26th, they could steal that victory against the seasoned Badgers. If not, they could be in for a long senior day at the Breslin Center.
The road schedule is tough, with trips to Ohio State, Indiana, Purdue, Michigan, and Maryland (all potential losses depending on how Thad Matta and John Beilein rebound from off-years). But missing Iowa is a welcome sight after last year’s dismantling and Sparty never wants to play at Wisconsin where they hardly ever win.
A neutral court game with Penn State at the Palestra could be sneaky good, as the Nittany Lions will look to run and out-gun the Spartans.
Verdict: Barring any major surprises, the Big Ten will feature the same top eight teams as last year, some of them beating each other up as the year progresses. An upset at home looks for home looms, as does a gutsy road victor.
12-6 (second or third in the Big Ten)
22-9 heading into the Big Ten Tournament, let’s say they go 1-1, finishing at 23-10. That record, with their schedule, should be good enough for a #4 seed in the tournament. Once you get to the dance, anything can happen.
This seems about right to me. A thin front-line will get stronger as players returns from injury, Bridges and Langford should emerge along the wing as the two best players, Eron Harris looks for a break-out year. Talent will win out. Izzo will take care of the rest.