And we’re finally down to the final four. After taking a look at Michigan State’s first two blocks of non-conference games, we come to the conclusion as we eek towards the start of college basketball season. Yippee!
Florida Gators (Away)
When: Dec. 8, 12:00pm CT
Last Year: 21-13, 3rd in SEC, Lost in second round of NCAA Tournament
2018-’19 Outlook: Florida is a good team that returns its best player and welcomes its first five-star recruit since 2013. So yeah, you can color me intrigued to see the Spartans take the show down to the swamp for a true road game in early December. Senior guard Jalen Hudson is back in Gainesville, looking to build on a season that saw him lead Florida with 15.5 points per game despite starting only 19 of the 34 contests he appeared in. It goes without saying he’ll be locked in to a starting role in 2018-’19 as head coach Mike White looks to lean heavily on his star senior.
Key Player: Andrew Nembhard — And yet, Hudson isn’t the player garnering the most attention at Florida. That distinction has belonged to Nembhard, a Canadian prospect who attended high school in the shadows of Gainesville, since he elected to play collegiately in his adopted home state. And as far as freshmen go, Nembhard appears to be as polished as they come. He’ll be a handful for opponents on opening day, let alone by the time Sparty see him in early December.
Green Bay Phoenix (Home)
When: Dec. 16, 5:00pm CT
Last Year: 13-20, 7th in Horizon, No postseason
2018-’19 Outlook: Full disclosure, I know very little about the Horizon league. That said, on its face, I don’t think this Green Bay team will be half bad! The Phoenix return its second leading scorer Sandy Cohen (more on him in a second) and third leading point producer Kameron Hankerson, so the cupboard is far from dry up in Packer-land. That said, do I expect Green Bay to give Michigan State a game when they come to East Lansing? Absolutely not.
Key Player: Sandy Cohen — I can’t fully explain my level of disappointment on this not being the dad from The O.C. That said, the former Marquette Golden Eagle is finally living up to his former four-star top 75 recruiting ranking from 2014, and thus, improving his Google search results. In his first season as a Phoenix, Cohen averaged 16.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game. He should find himself on a short list for Horizon Player of the Year. Welcome to Green Bay, bitch.
Oakland Golden Grizzlies (Home)
When: Dec. 21, 7:00pm CT
Last Year: 19-14, 4th in Horizon, No postseason
2018-’19 Outlook: Remember just a paragraph or two ago when I said I knew very little about the Horizon league? That still applies. That said, me thinks it’s going to be a rough year at Oakland. The Grizzlies lost its five best players who, combined, started 125 games and accounted for 2,223 of the 2,580 points scored by the entire team. That’s over 86 percent of the Grizzlies offense! Best of luck and my sincerest of condolences to head coach Greg Kampe.
Key Player: Did I mention that Oakland lost literally every productive player from last year? Pass.
Northern Illinois Huskies (Home)
When: Dec. 29, TBD
Last Year: 13-19, 6th in MAC, No postseason
2018-’19 Outlook: Unlike Oakland, the Huskies return four of its five leading scores, including All-Mac Second Team guard Eugene German. While it’s hard to predict how these lower mid-major conferences will play out (I’m not Jon Rothstein, damnit!) I’d venture a guess that Northern Illinois has a chance to turn its veteran team into a potential postseason bid. But do I expect them to best Sparty? Nah.
Key Player: Eugene German — After looking over his stats from last year, I think the MAC award voters missed the mark only having this guy on the conferences Second Team. German put up 20.6 points per game and didn’t score less than 10 points in any of his teams 32 games. That’s super impressive. Plus, at 6-feet tall, the diminutive player is easy to root for as you can see from these highlig—oh my sweet and gentle Jesus, NIU has my new favorite court in all of college basketball.