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Can The Spartans Survive A Challenging Schedule?

What is Michigan State up against this season?

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Semifinals-Michigan State vs Texas Tech Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The preseason number 1 team in the country gives the Big Ten its best chance at ending its national championship drought. Tom Izzo, in his storied career, has never started the season at no. 1 in the polls. The 2019-’20 Michigan State Spartans might be Izzo’s best team. Can they set themselves up with their schedule to make a long and memorable run in March? Let’s take a look at what they are up against this season.


Michigan State’s 2019-’20 Schedule

  • 11/5 - Kentucky (neutral)
  • 11/10 - Binghamton
  • 11/14 - at Seton Hall
  • 11/18 - Charleston Southern
  • 11/25 - Virginia Tech (Lahaina, HI)
  • 11/26 - Maui Invitational (Lahaina, HI)
  • 11/27 - Maui Invitational (Lahaina, HI)
  • 12/3 - Duke
  • 12/8 - Rutgers
  • 12/14 - at Oakland
  • 12/18 - at Northwestern
  • 12/21 - Eastern Michigan
  • 12/29 - Western Michigan
  • 1/2 - Illinois
  • 1/5 - Michigan
  • 1/9 - Minnesota
  • 1/12 - at Purdue
  • 1/17 - Wisconsin
  • 1/23 - at Indiana
  • 1/26 - at Minnesota
  • 1/29 - Northwestern
  • 2/1 - at Wisconsin
  • 2/4 - Penn State
  • 2/8 - at Michigan
  • 2/11 - at Illinois
  • 2/15 - Maryland
  • 2/20 - at Nebraska
  • 2/25 - Iowa
  • 2/29 - at Maryland
  • 3/3 - at Penn State
  • 3/8 - Ohio State

Non-Conference Breakdown

A Champions Classic Showdown

Right off the bat, Michigan State is going against no. 2 Kentucky in Indianapolis. In the latest version of the Champions Classic, the top-4 teams will square off on November 5th.

As usual, Kentucky welcomes one of the best recruiting classes in the country to this game tonight. This should be an interesting contrast with the more experienced Spartans.

A matchup to watch in this one is the Spartans senior leader, Cassius Winston, facing off against freshman phenom, Tyrese Maxey. The 247Sports composite no. 10 player in the country projects to be Kentucky’s top scorer this season. Take a look at some of his AAU highlights below.


Holiday Tournament

The Spartans return to one of the premier holiday season tournaments this season in the Maui Invitational.

The Maui Invitational again offers a lineup of some of the best teams in college basketball with Michigan State, Kansas, UCLA, Virginia Tech, and Georgia amongst others.

Michigan State will square off first against the Hokies. Last season Virginia Tech came within one possession of advancing past Duke to the Elite Eight. This year’s squad will be very different.

Coach Buzz Williams moved on to Texas A&M, and most of the roster turned over as well. The Hokies hired Wofford coach Mike Young, but return the least amount of minutes and production than any other team in the ACC. T-Rank predicts a tough year at 12-17 overall. KenPom is more charitable at 17-12, but this looks like a team that will struggle in Young’s first season.

Should the Spartans get by the Hokies they will likely match up with Georgia or Dayton. Both programs are currently KenPom mid-50 teams so this game should be competitive and close. The Spartans should be heavily favored either way and a championship matchup against Kansas could await.

The Jayhawks are no. 3 in the preseason poll and like Michigan State, possess inside and outside skill. On the perimeter, Michigan State will need to watch out for sophomore Devon Dotson. The 6-foot-2 guard projects to average around 16 points per game this season. Underneath is senior 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike. This game has the potential to be one of the best games in all of college basketball this season. These are two programs and coaches that like to play in similar styles. Take a look at some highlights of Dotson last season.

Gavitt Games

Michigan State’s first road game goes down at Seton Hall in the latest version of the Big Ten/Big East Gavitt Games. The Pirates project to be the top team in the Big East this season but enter the season with some uncertainty. Their coach, Kevin Willard, earned a suspension for two games for his involvement in a transfer tampering scandal. The Michigan State game will be his first game back on the bench.

Winston has another intriguing matchup in this one. Seton Hall senior Myles Powell joins Winston as being one of the best point guards in the country. The 6-foot-2 Powell could average around 20 points per game this season. It should be fun watching these two trying to best one another. Take a look at some highlights from Powell last season.

ACC/Big Ten Challenge

In continuing with this ridiculous non-conference schedule, Michigan State welcomes Duke to the Breslin Center on December 3rd.

The no. 4 Blue Devils will again rely on some talented freshmen this season. Vernon Casey, the 247Sports no. 6 player in the country, leads the charge in the frontcourt. In the backcourt, Wendell Moore and sophomore Tre Jones leads the way there.

Izzo exercised some demons last season with his Elite Eight victory over Coach K and Duke. He will try to build last year’s big win into a streak in this highly anticipated matchup.

Take a look at some highlights of Casey below.

Conference Breakdown

Toughest Stretch

  • 1/12 - at Purdue
  • 1/17 - Wisconsin
  • 1/23 - at Indiana
  • 1/26 - at Minnesota

These three road games in January finds Michigan State battling against a couple of teams that took them down last season.

Purdue, we’ll touch on below, but this one is always a difficult matchup in West Lafayette.

Next, they get Wisconsin at home, but the Badgers always seem to play Michigan State tough. I don’t think Wisconsin has the size and strength to hang with Michigan State, but if they slow the pace and don’t turn the ball over, this one will turn into an intense meat grinder.

After Wisconsin, Michigan State heads to Bloomington to face the only team they lost to twice last season. Assembly Hall will be rocking and expect the Hoosiers ready to try and make this a three-game winning streak against the Spartans.

To complete this four-game grind, Michigan State travels to Minneapolis to face the Gophers. Though Michigan State handled Minnesota with relative ease twice last season, the Barn is always a tough place to play.

Road Game To Watch Out For

  • 1/12 - at Purdue

The Boilermakers have had a great run of success over the Spartans at home over the last few years. Michigan State hasn’t defeated Purdue in Mackey Arena since 2014.

Last year’s game involved Purdue racing out of the gate on the Spartans and then hanging on as Winston led a furious comeback. Purdue doesn’t have Carsen Edwards or Ryan Cline this season, but they still project to be in the top-4 in the conference, and the analytics people love them. T-Rank has them at no. 7 right now and KenPom has them at no. 9.

Mackey Arena has been almost a guaranteed “L” for visitors over the last few seasons, and the Boilermakers haven’t beaten the number one team in the country since 2000.

Overall Outlook

By December 4th, Michigan State could have played half of its games against the top 12 teams. That’s ridiculous. Izzo always prides himself on playing a tough non-conference schedule, but this season might be outdoing itself.

This is a strong Michigan State team that should be primed for a deep tournament run in March. However, don’t be surprised if Michigan State drops a couple in non-conference play and muddies up its record a bit. There’s a long game to this, and with its tough non-conference schedule, the Spartans should have one of the better resumes in the country.