Last week, we kicked off a detailed look at Michigan State’s non-conference schedule and we’re back again to dive into its next 3ish games. So why delay? Let’s get into it.
UCLA Bruins (Neutral Site)
When: Nov. 22, 10:00pm CT
Last Year: 21-12, 3rd in the Pac 12, Lost in First Four of NCAA Tournament
2018-’19 Outlook: Things are looking rather rosy in Westwood, as Steve Alford welcomes one of the country’s best recruiting classes to southern California and is Ball-free for the first time since 2015. The Bruins’ impressive freshmen haul is highlighted by 7-foot five-star center Moses Brown and four-star prodigy Shareef O’Neal (you may have heard of his father before). And while Alford will need to replace do-everything guard Aaron Holiday in his starting lineup, it’s a task made significantly easier thanks to the returns of Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands. With this game taking place within driving distance of UCLA’s campus, it’ll be a tough and early test for Tom Izzo and company.
Key Player: Kris Wilkes — It’s a testament to both the potential and depth of this UCLA team that this could arguably be one of four players. That said, the nod goes to the former Mr. Basketball of Indiana. At 6-foot-8, Wilkes has NBA scouts drooling about his potential as a 3-and-D slasher at the next level. And while the bright lights and paydays of The Association might be on the near horizon for Wilkes, he’ll suit up for at least one more year at UCLA where he’ll look to improve on his 13.7 points per game scoring average and take the reigns as the Bruins lead dog from the departed Aaron Holiday.
North Carolina Tar Heels OR Texas Longhorns (Neutral Site)
*Opponent will be determined after opening round of Las Vegas Invitational
When: Nov. 23, 4:00pm CT or 6:30pm CT
Last Year: 26-11, 3rd in ACC, Lost in second round of NCAA Tournament
2018-’19 Outlook: The rich just keeping getting richer in Chapel Hill. Sure, gone are leading scorer Joel Berry and do-everything spark plug Theo Pinson, but those losses are a little easier to swallow when you return an All-ACC first teamer, not to mention runner-up for ACC Player of the Year, in Luke Maye and bring in one of the most highly anticipated recruits in the program’s recent history. Roy Williams has North Carolina consistently at the top on the college basketball pecking order and there’s no reason that should change in 2018.
Key Player: Nassir Little — It’s crazy for the No. 3 overall recruit in the country to be lost in the shuffle, but that’s what happens when the two players ahead of you in the rankings commit to your new schools biggest rival. Blue Devils-aside, Little comes to UNC with big expectations seeing as he’s already being pegged as a top five selection in the 2019 NBA Draft. So what exactly should Michigan State be worried about should they meet the newest Tar Heel in Las Vegas? Everything.
Last Year: 19-15, 6th in Big 12, Lost in first round of NCAA Tournament
2018-’19 Outlook: Should the Spartans come across the Longhorns in Sin City, it’ll find a coach in Shake Smart under an enormous amount of pressure. Entering his fourth season in Austin, any remaining VCU shine has officially worn off, leaving Smart needing to contend for a Big 12 crown while finding a way to advance out of the NCAAs first round. Helping him to do just that will be his two leading scorers from last year — seniors Dylan Osetkowski and Kerwin Roach Jr. Additionally, Smart signed a top 10 recruiting class that’s built on quantity with four four-star freshmen all ranked by 247 between 43 and 102 in the country.
Key Player: Dylan Osetkowski — In the interest of transparency, there isn’t a single player on this year’s Texas team that would strike fear into me as an opposing coach. That’s not to say the Longhorns won’t be a good team, but rather one that wins with consistency across the roster instead of relying on a one man wrecking crew. However, Dylan Osetkowski (whose name almost broke my spell check) is the type of player any coach would want on its roster. Showing improvements each and every year, Osetkowski led the Longhorns with 13.4 points per game and would have led them in rebounds too had it not been for super athlete Mo Bamba and his albatross-esque wingspan.
Louisville Cardinals (Away)
When: Nov. 27, 7:30pm CT
Last Year: 22-14, 8th in the ACC, Lost in the NIT quarterfinals
2018-’19 Outlook: Last year was super weird. Amid a sea of uncertainty and under the weight of many an impending scandal, David Padgett somehow managed to keep things afloat in Louisville, leading the Cardinals to a surprising 22 wins. As a thank you for his services, he was promptly relieved of his duties following Louisville’s NIT quarterfinal loss and replaced with Chris Mack. Projecting how Mack’s first year south of the Ohio River plays out is a fools errand, as he’ll be relying on a mixed bag of talented, albeit unproven, underclassman and journeymen grad transfers.
Key Player: Malik Williams — Say what you will about ol’ Ricky Pitino’s recruiting tactics, but he did leave the cupboard far from dry for Chris Mack. One such uber talented player brought in under the former administration was 6-foot-11 four-star forward Malik Williams. Although used sparingly last year, Williams did start 12 games for the Cardinals and is only a year removed from being a top 50 overall recruit. Between his natural skill set and Mack’s track record as a player developer, 2018-’19 has the makings of a breakout year for the forward.