College basketball has started up again on Friday and among the highlight games in primetime will be the No. 12 Michigan State Spartans playing No. 10 Arizona in Honolulu as part of the Armed Forces Classic.
Anyone who is a fan of Michigan State basketball and follows even the littlest of nuances that define Spartan basketball, knows that head coach Tom Izzo is notorious for having among the nation’s toughest schedules in a given season, particularly in non-conference play.
And with a top-5 nationally ranked recruiting class coming in for next season, the young core along with the rest of the Spartans will be thrown into the fire with the country’s best, hoping to remove that sour taste of losing in the first round of this past season’s NCAA Tournament in stunning fashion to 15-seed Middle Tennessee.
No matter, the docket of games lined up for MSU is chock-full of powerhouse programs.
The non-conference schedule is yet to be finalized, but Michigan State will face the Nation's Toughest November. pic.twitter.com/UPya3qd0OQ
— Michigan State Men's Basketball (@MSU_Basketball) June 15, 2016
Wow… Now that is brutal.
The Arizona Wildcats had a bit of a down season for their standards, despite still finishing with a very solid 25-9 overall record. They have been among the nation’s most elite teams over the last handful of years. This MSU/ARZ match-up will be one of two taking place in the fourth annual Armed Forces Classic, along with another top-15 showdown in No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 11 Indiana.
It is the second time MSU will be participating in the early-season military-focused basketball game. The first time happened back in 2012 when the Spartans suffered a 68-62 loss to Connecticut in the inaugural Armed Forces Classic over at the Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, the first game between two Division I basketball programs to take place in Europe.
Just four days later, Izzo and Co. will travel to the Big Apple and face the No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats in the latest of the edition of the Champions Classic, who is likely going to be reloaded with young stud freshmen, something the program has grown accustomed to doing under head coach John Calipari. It will be the sixth go-round for MSU and UK, as well as Duke and the aforementioned Jayhawks of Kansas. The Spartans beat Kentucky in the event back in 2013, 78-74 in a battle of No. 1 vs. No. 2, with 2-seed MSU coming away with the victory.
After the long flight from Hawaii to New York City, MSU will then spend their Thanksgiving weekend in the Bahamas for the ‘Battle 4 Atlantis’ Tournament that features a pretty loaded class of programs. The No. 13 Louisville Cardinals (23-8 last season) was all but penciled in for a top-4 seed in the Tournament last year but self-imposed bans halted that train in a heartbeat. The Baylor Bears (22-12) has been a top-25 program for the last decade. The field also features mid-major powers Wichita State (26-9) and VCU (25-11), always capable of knocking off big-time programs.
If you’re a fan of college basketball in general, don’t sleep on Old Dominion (25-13) either. They have accumulated 20+ wins in nine of the last 12 years in their time in the CAA and Conference-USA, with four NCAA bids to their name. Also, the college basketball world will be anxious to see what NBA Hall of Famer Chris Mullin can do in his second season as head coach with his alma mater St. John’s after notching just eight wins a season ago.
And to cap it all off, Izzo will be squaring off with his old friend Mike Krzyzewski and the top-ranked and reloaded Duke Blue Devils to close out November as part of the 2016 ACC/Big Ten Challenge. One could safely say that the Blue Devils are the Spartans’ kryptonite. Dating back to 1950, the Spartans are just 2-10 all-time against the Dukies. The most recent MSU victory came in a Sweet 16 showdown during the 2005 NCAA Tournament 78-68.
Hopefully the third time’s a charm for Izzo and the Spartans when they travel to Cameron Indoor Stadium on November 29. The previous two times they traveled to Durham, they left with single-digit defeats in games where both Duke and Michigan State were ranked at the time. (11.30.2004 – L, 81-74; 12.01.2010 – L, 84-79)
However you want to slice and dice it, Michigan State will have their work cut out once again in the first month of the regular season.