On Oct 21, the men’s basketball team was named preseason No. 1 in the AP poll for the first time in Michigan State’s history.
Coach Tom Izzo is no stranger to scheduling some of the toughest opponents in college hoops, but this year, he has some massive matchups that will prove if the Spartans are legitimate contenders to cut down the nets in Atlanta. Let’s take a look at some of these marquee matchups.
1. No. 2 Kentucky at Madison Square Garden, New York City
The annual Champions Classic will be a reversal of the Spartans' 2013 Champions Classic, where former Spartan Keith Appling led the No. 2 Spartans with 22 points to a victory over former Wildcat Julius Randle and No. 1 Kentucky. It won’t take long to see what the team is made of as they take on coach John Calipari’s Wildcats. Kentucky brings in another heralded recruiting class this year featuring small forward Khalil Whitney and shooting guard Tyrese Maxey.
2. @ No. 12 Seton Hall
This matchup will feature arguably the best two players in college basketball with senior guard Cassius Winston and Seton Hall’s Myles Powell. The junior guard averaged 23.1 points per game last season for the Pirates. This will be a true test to see who will completely replace injured senior guard Joshua Langford on the defensive end of the floor.
3. Maui Invitational at Hawaii
The Spartans will start off the Maui Invitational by facing the Virginia Tech squad who are starting the season with new coach Mike Young. However, the main storyline of this tournament is the potential matchup between MSU and Kansas. If the Spartans and Jayhawks win out to the championship game, it would create another challenging matchup for the men’s basketball team.
4. Home vs. No. 4 Duke
This might be the biggest non-conference game in the Breslin Center’s history. A year removed from former Spartan Kenny Goins’ shot heard around the world, the Spartans will face an incredibly different team from a year ago. Duke will be led by freshman center Vernon Carey — who picked Duke over MSU — and returning sophomore guard Tre Jones.
5. Home vs. Illinois
This game might not jump out on paper, but the Fighting Illini — led by projected first round draft pick Ayo Dosunmu — are a dark horse Big Ten champion candidate. The Spartans have had trouble in the past against Illinois, namely last season when the Spartans had a turnover barrage that allowed Illinois to steal a win at home.
6. Home vs. Michigan
The University of Michigan has a new head man in former Fab Five member Juwan Howard. The Wolverines will be led by senior guard Zavier Simpson and senior center Jon Teske. Tensions might already be brewing as coach Howard said that he wasn’t one bit worried about “that team up North.”
7. @ No. 23 Purdue
Former Spartan guard Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr. once described playing the Boilermakers at Mackey Arena as “going to war.” The Boilermakers have lost leading scorer Carsen Edwards to the NBA, but still have guys in Nojel Eastern and Matt Haarms who can give the Spartans trouble in such a hostile environment.
8. @ Wisconsin
While this Wisconsin team might not have former Badger Ethan Happ, they return one of the best backcourts on the Big Ten. D’mitrik Trice, brother of former Spartan Travis Trice, leads the backcourt with freshman guards Brad Davidson and Kobe King. They didn’t receive a vote in the preseason AP poll, but the Badgers are always tough to play in the Kohl Center.
9. Home vs. No. 7 Maryland
This game could determine the winner of the Big Ten this season. Being the scheduled lone matchup between the two for the year, the Spartans have the advantage playing at home. However, the Terrapins are loaded with returning big man Jalen Smith and point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. They look to compete with MSU as top dogs in the Big Ten.
10. Home vs. Ohio State
Ohio State brought in an extremely talented recruiting class that might blossom by the time this game comes around. The Spartans certainly will have the experience edge, but the Buckeyes will look to avenge three tough losses they had against the Spartans last year.