Weighing MSU men's basketball's tough nonconference schedule
The men’s basketball team opened the regular season with a five point loss to No. 1 Kansas Nov. 5 at the State Farm Champions Classic in Indianapolis. The tough matchups don’t stop there, as the remainder of Michigan State’s nonconference schedule is packed with some basketball titans.
“We’ve got a little bit of a problem now that we’re playing so many big games early,” coach Tom Izzo said after his team’s Oct. 30 exhibition win over Northern Michigan.
Brutal nonconference slate
MSU’s tough nonconference schedule will likely prevent the team from matching its 30-game win total from last season. The tenth-ranked Spartans have the potential to face off against a couple more ranked teams on their nonconference schedule, including a matchup against No. 21 UCLA on Thanksgiving Day as part of the Las Vegas Invitational. The following day, the Spartans will match up with either No. 8 North Carolina or Texas.
Also worth noting are road games against a pair of respectable programs in Louisville (which received 11 votes in the AP Preseason Poll) and Florida (received 71), which will take place on Nov. 27 and Dec. 8, respectively. Depending on how both Louisville and Florida fare prior to their matchup with the Spartans, they could very well work their way into the rankings.
And perhaps the toughest part of it all for the Spartans — none of the aforementioned games will be played in East Lansing.
The games against UCLA and North Carolina/Texas will be played in a neutral setting in Orleans Arena, but the Louisville and Florida matchups will be true road games for the Spartans. MSU owns a 90.9 winning percentage in the Breslin Center over the past two seasons, but when they travel, that winning percentage drops to 54.1. Additionally, the Spartans have lost all seven of their games against ranked opponents played away from the Breslin Center over that same time span.
It will be tough for newcomers to find court time
A glaring drawback resulting from MSU’s hefty nonconference schedule will be the lack of opportunities for inexperienced players to gain court time, mainly in games against ranked opponents.
“There’s no room to grow here in the next 30 days,” Izzo said. “We’ve got six monster games in that period, and that is the hardest part of scheduling like we schedule.”
Izzo already made it clear that freshman forward Aaron Henry will be a part of the rotation, and freshman Foster Loyer – who is the only other non-redshirted freshman on the roster along with Henry – is also expected to get plenty of court time, serving as the backup to starting point guard Cassius Winston.
The rest of the freshman class will struggle to pick up minutes. The remainder of the incoming class includes three forwards: Thomas Kithier, Marcus Bingham Jr. and Gabe Brown.
“The negative is that -— and (Jim) Boeheim told me long ago and he’s right — ‘You don’t get to work those young guys in,’ and that is a negative,” Izzo said.
With the future departures of redshirt senior Kenny Goins, and potentially Nick Ward (if he decides to leave for the NBA after flirting with the idea in the offseason) after the season, incoming players will have plenty of chances down the road to gain the experience off the bench they might miss out on in the team’s upcoming treacherous nonconference slate.
They will be better prepared for tournament season
Though their nonconference slate will likely hurt the incoming freshmen in terms of getting real-game experience, it should do wonders for the starting five (Josh Langford, Matt McQuaid, Winston, Ward and Goins), especially during tournament season.
The Spartans did not fare well in March last season. After falling to U-M in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, MSU lost to Syracuse in the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament, failing to make it past the second round of the tourney for the third straight season.
Their tough nonconference schedule should serve as practice for March, when the games matter most.