With less than a month till practice begins there’s no better time than the present to take a deeper look at Michigan State’s upcoming non-conference schedule. Over the next three weeks, we’ll be highlighting some key news and notes from the Spartans slate of non-Big Ten foes.
Kansas Jayhawks (Neutral Site)
When: Nov. 6, 7:00pm CT
Last year: 31-8, 1st in Big 12, Lost in Final Four
2018-‘19 Outlook: It’s National Title or bust for Rock Chalk, Jayhawk. Sure, gone are its three leading scorers from last year in Devonte’ Graham, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, and Malik Newman but Kansas and Bill Self don’t so much rebuild as they respawn. Led by a mixture of high-profile freshmen Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson and upperclassmen Legerald Vick and Udoka Azubuike, Kansas should enter 2018-’19 one of, if not, the top overall team in all of college basketball. Sparty will have its hands full right out the gate.
Key Player: Quentin Grimes — With apologizes to Dotson, Vick, and Azubuike, I’m giving the slightest of nods to the incoming five-star freshmen combo guard. A Top 10 national ranked prospect, Grimes comes to Lawrence with the highest of expectations. The Champions Classic matchup against the Green and White provides the potential 2019 NBA lottery pick with the chance for a high profile coming out party.
Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (Home)
When: Nov. 11, 6:00pm CT
Last year: 23-12, 1st in Atlantic Sun, Lost in first round of NIT
2018-‘19 Outlook: Four of the Eagles five top scores from last years regular season Atlantic Sun championship team are gone, leaving first year head coach Michael Fry with senior guard Dinero Mercurius and a whole lot of question marks.
Key Player: Troy Baxter Jr. — Trading Sin City for Dunk City, the redshirt sophomore returns to his native Florida after one season at UNLV. In his lone year in Las Vegas, Baxter averaged 13.7 minutes and 4.3 points per game as a true freshmen. Despite limited production, the 6-foot-8 forward was a four-star Top 100 prospect out of high school, meaning he’ll bring a solid pedigree to the court during his first year of eligibility at FGCU.
Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks (Home)
When: Nov. 14, 7:00pm CT
Last year: 16-16, 5th in Sun Belt, Lost in first round of CIT
2018-‘19 Outlook: Led by Keith Richard (not the person you’re thinking of, but my God, how awesome would THAT be?), Louisiana-Monroe fields a roster than includes 11 upperclassmen and only a single freshmen and sophomore. All-Sun Belt Second Team forward Travis Munnings returns to ULM fresh off a season that saw him led his team in both scoring (15.9 points per game) and rebounding (7.3 per game) last year and should find himself in the conversation for Sun Belt Player of the Year entering 2018-’19.
Key Player: Michael Ertel — Playing the Pippen to Munnings’ Jordan is Ertel, the Sun Belt’s reigning Freshmen of the Year. As one of the the two underclassmen on the Warhawks roster, he’ll look to develop off of a debut season that saw him average 11.6 points per game. Between Ertel and Munnings, ULM has a one-two punch that should keep them in the hunt for the Sun Belt’s NCAA Tournament bid.
Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles (Home)
When: Nov. 18, 6:00pm CT
Last year: 19-14, 5th in Ohio Valley, No postseason appearance
2018-‘19 Outlook: The Golden Eagles graduated all five of its top scorers from last year, and return only one player that started more than 20 games in junior forward Courtney Alexander II. It goes without saying that head coach Steve Payne has his work cut out for him.
Key Player: Malik Martin — Easing the loss of pretty much its entire offense is grad transfer Malik Martin, who heads to Tennessee Tech after previous stops at USC and UCF. Last year at Central Florida, the 6-foot-11 big man appeared in 32 games, averaging 6.4 points and 4.7 rebounds. Also of note is senior guard Chris McNeal. The former Western Kentucky Hilltopper and New Mexico Lobo averaged 9.5 points last year and should contribute right away for Tech.