Any Michigan State Spartans Epic Begins with Key Non-Conference Battles

Taylor RummelSenior Analyst ISeptember 7, 2009

DETROIT - APRIL 06:  Tyler Hansbrough #50 of the North Carolina Tar Heels drives to the basket between Goran Suton #14 and Kalin Lucas #1 of the Michigan State Spartans in the second half during the 2009 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship game at Ford Field on April 6, 2009 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The adage “practice makes perfect” has been echoed by mentors for generations.


Michigan State Head Coach Tom Izzo is no exception.


"As we do each year, we've put together an exciting non-conference schedule, featuring some great teams and dangerous squads, said Izzo. "There is no doubt our non-conference schedule will have us well-tested for the start of league play.”


Certainly the words “great” and “dangerous” are mere adjectives used by Izzo to describe the tenacious teams he’ll have to square off again.


To truly fit the bill, those words would have to be upped to potent, and super-athletic, since those “describing words” truly capture the essence of talent he’ll see on the opposing side in these high-flying games.


Beginning the series of collegiate-battles is a bout against perennial power Gonzaga on Nov. 17; just the second game into the regular season.


The next match has the Spartans going up against a tough Florida team in the Legends Classic Tournament; which will modernize a rematch of the 2000 NCAA title game. In December, State travels to both Texas and North Carolina; both likely top five teams.


Here’s the breakdown of each game:



Gonzaga @ Michigan State; Nov. 17


Prior meeting:


The last time these two teams met was at the Maui Invitational in 2005. The Zips ended up winning a thriller in triple-overtime, but at that time, super-stud Adam Morrison was around to head the charge. No longer is that the case.


Gonzaga now:


Although the “Zags” lost four of their top five scorers from last season—including stars Austin Daye and Jeremy Pargo to the NBA—they return second leading scorer Matt Bouldin, who averaged nearly 14 PPG and as well bring in a serviceable recruiting class including two top-25 positional players.


What to look for in the game:


The obvious mismatch on paper is within the guard position. Spartan point-man Kalin Lucas should have no trouble running the show against a lesser defender, and Gonzaga’s lack of stardom will be exploited by the acrobatic play of Durrell Summers and Raymar Morgan. As long as the Spartans capitalize on easy plays, then they should have no trouble attaining the W.




Michigan State 83, Gonzaga 75




Florida @ Michigan State; Nov. 27


Prior meeting:


Michigan State last squared off against Florida in a second-round match-up in the 2003 NCAA Tournament. The Spartans knocked out Florida under the guidance of sensational guards Alan Anderson and Chris Hill.


Florida now:


Billy Donovan’s squad has been a bit weaker the last few years—in comparison to his championship team in 2007.


However, the team possesses a play-making point guard in Nick Calathes, the team’s returning leading-scorer. In fact, the only notable loss the Gators suffered this past season was losing fifth leading scorer Walter Hodge.


Along with a mostly familiar starting five, the team from Gainesville netted one super-recruit: Nationwide number three shooting guard and Mcdonald’s All-American Kenny Boynton Jr.


What to look for in the game:


Kalin Lucas will have his defensive-hands full with powerful point guard Nick Calathes reeking havoc with his impressive skill-set. Boyton Jr. will as well give fits to whoever State has matched up against him.


On the front-lines is where State has the advantage, boasting more than a couple capable big-men. If MSU can generate a staying post-presence, then look for them to come out victorious.




Michigan State 75, Florida 72




Michigan State @ Texas; Dec. 22


Prior meeting:


In what is becoming an annual showdown, these two teams met pre-conference last year. In the game, Michigan State overcame an A.J. Abrams led offense to the tune of a 67-63 victory.


Texas now:


Gone is star point guard Abrams. Returning are defensive-specialists Damion James and Justin Mason, each whom averaged over a steal a game last season, demonstrating their relentless efforts going after the ball.


The recruits Rick Barnes’ team brought in include number five power forward Tristan Thompson and number 15 shooting guard Daniel Bejarano.


What to look for in the game:


Michigan State has the backcourt advantage by a mile, but the mid-game, (3 and 4 spots) will be a hotly contested battle. The offensive prowess from Raymar Morgan and Durrell Summers will be met with the hostile-defense put forth by both James and Mason.


If State has any hope of winning, then their guards will have to show up big time.



Michigan State 66, Texas 63




Michigan State @ North Carolina; Dec. 1


Prior meeting:


You don’t even have to know these two teams in order to answer this question. Virtually everybody remembers watching these clubs go at it for “net-duties” last March.


UNC came out on top—twice that season—but they lost a plethora of that championship team over the summer.


North Carolina now:


Merely one season removed from their title-year, and UNC looks like a completely different team.


Evaporated with their claim as No. 1 is collegiate-legend Tyler Hansbrough, super speedy game-manager Ty Lawson, do-everything guard Wayne Ellington, and athletic big Danny Green. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that all those names fell prey to the draft.


However, one would be foolish to think that North Carolina is out of contention for a repeat. As they are every-year, the team is chock-full of talent, blossoming from all positions and all levels of experience.


Deon Thompson, Ed Davis, and Tyler Zeller all return from a season ago, and UNC brings in a top recruiting-crop that includes four McDonald’s High School All-Americans.


What to look for in the game:


As they did last year, State will have its hands full with perhaps the most-talented team in the country. There really is no weakness on that team, and their talented players will be hard to slow down.


What State will have to do is try to manage the game at their own pace, and not commit costly turnovers—a plague that met the Spartans often last season. Fail to accomplish those goals, and you can kiss any chance at winning goodbye.




North Carolina 80, Michigan State 71



While these four games won’t make or break the entire Spartans season, they will undoubtedly play a big factor in determining what seed the team will have come dance-time, and who doesn’t want cupcake-matchups awaiting them in the Tournament?


That’s why practicing with the best early on will keep the Spartans in perfect-shape for another deep-run into March.


*Quotes obtained from


Taylor Rummel is a writer for Bleacher Report