Michigan State fans are used to a tough schedule by now. Head coach Tom Izzo loves to challenge his team with marquee early-season matchups, and when you combine that with an always brutal Big Ten slate then you get a tough schedule.
It’s what we are all used to by now and this year is no different. The Spartans will again have one of the toughest schedules in the Big Ten and possibly the country. So with that I wanted to pick out the five hardest games on the 2017-18 schedule.
This list includes a couple of non-conference tests as well as some challenging road trips in Big Ten play. I did not include the Spartans early-season tournament — PK80 Phil Knight Invitational — because we don’t know who exactly they’ll play in that besides DePaul. And compared to some other teams on this schedule DePaul looks like chopped liver.
Keep in mind that these are just the five games I personally deemed toughest on the Spartans schedule. There certainly is plenty of other challenging matchups and I’m open for debate on who should and shouldn’t be on this list. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section below, and enjoy!
NOTE: The games are listed in chronological order by date and not by which is most difficult.
Duke (Nov. 14 at United Center in Chicago)
A top five matchup to start off the college basketball season — does it get much better than this? It’s actually the second game of the year for Michigan State — they host North Florida a few days before — but it’ll be the first real test for the Spartans in 2017-18.
Any time Duke is on your schedule it’ll probably crack a list like this, and this year is no exception. The Blue Devils return senior Grayson Allen and add the No. 1 recruiting class into the mix to create what some consider the best team in the country. Coach K has owned Izzo throughout their careers but Michigan State has more experience entering this early season matchup so it should be a great game. It’ll also be an early indicator of whether the Spartans are for real this year.
Notre Dame (Nov. 30)
The Spartans annually play a tough matchup in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, and this year will be no different when Notre Dame rolls into town. Depending on who you ask, Notre Dame is a contender in a loaded ACC and will provide another non-conference test for Michigan State.
The Fighting Irish return two of their three leading scorers from last year — Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell — who combined for nearly 32 points per game in 2016-17. Those two will lead a seasoned bunch that has reached the NCAA Tournament in the last three years. There’s also a little bit of a rivalry factor in this game so expect this to be a fun and exciting matchup to watch.
At Maryland (Jan. 28)
The Spartans first true road test in Big Ten play will be a trip to College Park against the Terps. Michigan State could very well be a perfect 9-0 in conference play when they roll into this matchup — that’s what I predicted in a story last month. However, this will not be an easy game for Michigan State even if they are on a hot streak.
This will be the second meeting between these two juggernauts so it could be a payback game for the Terps. Maryland returns three starters from last year and by this point in the season I’m confident they will have moved on from Melo Trimble. Plus it’s always tough to win at Maryland — Michigan State is 0-2 at the Xfinity Center since the Terps joined the Big Ten — so this will certainly be a tough game. If Michigan State does enter this game 9-0 in the Big Ten, don’t be surprised if they head home 9-1.
At Minnesota (Feb. 13)
This game could be for the Big Ten title when it’s all said in done. This is the lone meeting between the Spartans and Gophers next year so the winner will hold a key tiebreaker that could decide who enters the Big Ten Tournament as the top seed. And it doesn’t help the Spartans that it’s up at the Barn.
Minnesota returns essentially its entire team from a year ago when they set a program record for regular season wins. The Golden Gophers backcourt will include Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Nate Mason and Amir Coffey, and the front court isn’t shabby either with forward Jordan Murphy and center Reggie Lynch returning.
This could quite possibly be the toughest game on the Spartans’ entire schedule, but there is one positive for Michigan State — Izzo has dominated at the Barn. Michigan State has won eight of their last 10 games at Williams Arena, including an overtime thrilling victory last year.
At Wisconsin (Feb. 25)
While Michigan State has dominated Minnesota on the road, the same can not be said for the Badgers, which will only make this regular season finale that much harder. The Spartans are 6-13 against Wisconsin on the road under Tom Izzo, and are an even worse 2-11 in the last 13 meetings in Madison dating back to 2003. So it’s fair to say the Spartans don’t experience much success in the Badgers’ den.
History isn’t on the Spartans’ side and it doesn’t help that Wisconsin will again be solid this year. The Badgers lost a lot of talent to graduation — possibly the greatest senior class in school history — but there is still plenty of young talent on this roster led by forward Ethan Happ. That young talent will only improve over the course of the season and by the time these two teams meet in Madison this could be another very dangerous Badgers team. Not an easy matchup in what could be a Big Ten championship clinching opportunity for the Spartans.