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Can Anyone In the Big Ten Contend with Michigan State?

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Breaking down Michigan State's 2017-2018 conference schedule.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Michigan State vs Miami
Michigan State Basketball 2017-18
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Last season The Michigan State Spartans followed up a brutal non conference slate that saw them travel all over and out of the country with an inconsistently played conference schedule filled with hot and cold streaks.

The Spartans started Big Ten play last year with three straight wins and then followed that up by losing four of their next five games. After that, they then won six of their next eight games before losing their final two games before the Big Ten Tournament.

This season the Spartans Big Ten schedule is set up very favorably with no more than two away games in a row all year. Let’s take a look.

Nebraska Cornhuskers (12/03/2017 in East Lansing)

Michigan State will take a break from non-conference play in mid-December for two Big Ten games. The first comes against Nebraska at home. Last season the Spartans dominated both meetings against the Cornhuskers and surely look to overmatch them again this season.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (12/05/17 in Piscataway and 1/10/18 in East Lansing)

Michigan State will play Rutgers in their second conference game in December and again in early January. In their only matchup in 2016 Michigan State dominated the Scarlet knights by 28 points in Miles Bridges’s return from injury. The victory was highlighted by this alley-oop from Cassius Winston to Bridges.

Maryland Terrapins (1/04/18 in East Lansing and 1/28/18 in College Park)

Ever since Maryland has entered the Big Ten they have given the Spartans fits. In their only meeting in 2016 Melo Trimble hit a three pointer at the buzzer to bury Michigan State. I expect the home team to come away with the victory in both contests this season.

Ohio State Buckeyes (1/07/18 in Columbus)

The Spartans and Buckeyes split their two meetings last season with the home team winning both contests. This season Ohio State starts a new era with long time coach Thad Matta no longer in the program as they bring in Chris Holtmann from Butler. Ohio State and Michigan State will only meet once in 2017, a matchup that I expect the Spartans to win.

Michigan Wolverines (1/13/18 in East Lansing)

The rivalry between Michigan State and Michigan will only take place one time in 2017 like it did in 2015, but this time the lone matchup will be in East Lansing. Last season the Spartans and Wolverines split their two matchups with the home team winning both games. The 2018 edition of the rivalry on the hardwood will shape up to be a good one that I expect Michigan State to win.

Indiana Hoosiers (1/19/18 in East Lansing and 2/3/18 in Bloomington)

In the lone 2016 matchup between the Hoosiers and Spartans, Indiana used a 14 point halftime lead to fend off a Spartans comeback at the end of the game. The Indiana and Michigan State matchup will no longer be a Tom Izzo versus understudy contest with Tom Crean no longer in Bloomington. Indiana’s non conference performances will tell us a lot about if they can compete with the giants of the conference like Michigan State.

Illinois Fighting Illini (1/22/18 in Champaign and 2/20/18 in East Lansing)

In 2016 Michigan State lost the lone matchup against the Fighting Illini in early March with a Tum Tum Nairn half court shot coming up short at the buzzer. Talent wise, Michigan State is light years ahead of Illinois and should easily win both of the matchups against them this season.

Wisconsin Badgers (1/26/18 in East Lansing and 2/25/18 in Madison)

The matchups between Michigan State and Wisconsin have been very exciting in the past as the Spartans and Badgers have formed one of the better Big Ten rivalries on the hardwood over the years. Last season in their only matchup Michigan State beat the Badgers on senior night to lock up a spot in the 2017 NCAA Tournament. For Wisconsin, Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes are now gone. With Ethan Happ running the show in Madison, he will need a strong supporting cast to compete for a conference championship.

Penn State Nittany Lions (1/31/18 in East Lansing)

Last season Michigan State lost the lone matchup against Penn State when the two teams met up at the historic Palestra. For the past couple years everyone in the Big Ten has been waiting for Penn State to take the next step into becoming a NCAA Tournament team. Last season the Nittany Lions struggled with inconsistency but showed the promise their young roster had for when they improve and develop. The Nittany Lions could present a tough matchup for MSU this season, but with the only game coming in East Lansing, the Spartans should win this game.

Iowa Hawkeyes (2/6/18 in Iowa City)

The Hawkeyes are another Big Ten team that missed the tournament in 2017 but could return to the Big Dance if their young team (including point guard Jordan Bohannon) develops into consistent playmakers. Over the last decade Carver-Hawkeye Arena has been a place that Tom Izzo coached teams have struggled at. This could be a game the Spartans are caught sleeping through with a home game against Purdue coming just four days after.

Purdue Boilermakers (2/10/18 in East Lansing)

In 2016 Purdue defeated Michigan State in both matchups on their way to a regular season conference championship. The Boilermakers dominated the undersized Spartans with their “one-two punch” of Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas. With Swanigan now in the NBA and State at full strength in the frontcourt, I expect Michigan State to win this game in East Lansing.

Minnesota Golden Gophers (2/13/18 in Minneapolis)

One of the season’s highlights in 2016 came in Minneapolis when the Spartans overcame an 18 point deficit to force overtime and eventually beat Minnesota behind 20 point games from Nick Ward and Alvin Ellis III. The Spartans would also win the second matchup when the series made its return to East Lansing. This season, with the only game being played in The Barn, it should be an expected sellout as this late season matchup could potentially decide who is the Big Ten’s regular season champion.

Northwestern Wildcats (2/17/18 in Rosemont)

In 2016 Michigan State won the lone matchup in East Lansing between them and Northwestern. The Wildcats look to not be a one time visitor in the NCAA tournament as they will try to make back to back appearances in the Big Dance for the first time in school history. They will have to do it without a single home game on campus with Welsh-Ryan Arena under renovations.

Outlook

Michigan State could potentially start Big Ten play 9-0 with games coming against Nebraska, Rutgers (2x), Maryland, at Ohio State, Michigan, Indiana, at Illinois, and home against Wisconsin before I predict their first loss to come on the road against Maryland on Jan 28.

On paper, this could be one of the most dominant teams that Tom Izzo has had at Michigan State and will compete for a Final Four and beyond.