RTC 09-10 Class Schedule: Michigan State SpartansPosted by zhayes9 on August 20th, 2009
Ed. Note: for all of the posts in the RTC 09-10 Class Schedule series, click here.
As we continue our ongoing feature RTC’s Class Schedule for the upcoming 2009-10 season, let’s delve into the slate for the national runner-up of a season ago out of the Big 10: Michigan State. The Spartans entered last season with expectations to win their first regular season conference title since 2000-01 and accomplished said feat with a 15-3 Big 10 record, overcoming two stunning losses at home to Penn State and Northwestern along the way. The Spartans entered the tournament with high hopes as a #2 seed and, after dodging two bullets from USC and Kansas, smoked #1 seed Louisville and edged past Connecticut in the national semifinals before running into the buzzsaw known as North Carolina. With 2008-09’s successful season in the past, Tom Izzo is moving on with his point guard (Kalin Lucas), sharpshooter (Durrell Summers), enigma (Raymar Morgan), sophomore stud (Delvon Roe) and emerging big man (Draymond Green) all in the fray. Michigan State fans will accept nothing less than Tom Izzo’s sixth Final Four appearance this season in East Lansing.
Let’s take an in-depth look at the game-by-game journey Michigan State will have to endure if they wish to meet such lofty expectations. The official schedule can be found here:
Non-Conference Schedule Rank: 9.5. Tom Izzo never backs down from a challenge. Last season, Izzo traveled to the loaded Old Spice Classic, a trip halted by a stunning defeat at the hands of Maryland. He also faced Texas in Houston and North Carolina at Ford Field for the ACC/Big Ten challenge. Both the latter contests will also be featured in the 2009-10 edition of Michigan State’s non-conference slate, but this time as true road games rather than semi-neutral floors. That’s right, on December 1 the Spartans will play UNC in Chapel Hill and, on December 22, Texas in Austin. Rarely do you see a team with the status of Michigan State play such challenging road contests in non-conference play. Victories in either venue will provide Izzo with a significant quality win to tout during arguments for top seeds in March. Izzo also signed up his Spartans for the Legends Classic in November in Atlantic City where he’ll face Florida and either Rutgers or Massachusetts in the final (you’d think it would be Florida-Michigan State in the final, but I digress). Another program with a perennially loaded non-conference slate is Gonzaga. Mark Few’s team will travel to East Lansing for one of the top November contests, even with Austin Daye, Jeremy Pargo and Josh Heytvelt departed.
Cupcake City: In between the two road games in North Carolina and Texas, Michigan State packed in some much-deserved cupcakes. The challengers will be Wofford, The Citadel (that game being played in Charleston, oddly enough), Oakland and IPFW. While The Citadel had a surprising 20-win campaign last year, the only team that may be able to stay on the floor with Michigan State is Oakland, a 23-13 squad from a year ago that nearly toppled North Dakota State in the Summit final. Michigan State will also face Florida Gulf Coast and Texas-Arlington at home.
Toughest Early Season Test: One could make an argument for North Carolina or Texas depending on your view of their chances this season. I’ve been drooling over this Texas team all summer and I’m not wavering on that claim. Unlike North Carolina, who at that point in early December will still be trying to develop chemistry with new faces reacting to important roles, the Longhorns have a veteran team led by Damion James, Dexter Pittman, Gary Johnson, Jai Lucas, some fine role players and two of my favorite incoming freshmen- Avery Bradley and Jordan Hamilton. While I like the Spartans to edge out a win in Chapel Hill, Texas should provide an even superior challenge.
Easiest Conference Stretch: The Big Ten is plenty deep this season with seven or eight teams that could legitimately be dancing in March. If I had to elect a stretch, it would be the first six games of the conference season for the Spartans. Their two road games during that time are imminently winnable- Northwestern and Iowa- and while Minnesota and Illinois provide moderate tests, both games are played in East Lansing. The other two games are home dates with Wisconsin and Iowa. Expect Michigan State to start the Big Ten season 6-0 barring a stunning upset.
Hardest Conference Stretch: Izzo better take advantage of that easy stretch of games because four of the next five come on the road, and all four road contests come against teams that most believe will be either locks for the NCAA Tournament or lingering around the bubble. Following the Iowa home game, the Spartans fly to Minnesota and Michigan. After attempting to exact revenge on Northwestern for the shocker last year, Michigan State travels to Wisconsin and Illinois, two of the most difficult places to win on the road in not just the Big 10, but throughout the nation. If the Spartans can survive this tough stretch of games, they should be the frontrunners to bring home another regular season conference title.
Most Difficult Conference Road Test: This one’s easy- the late February tilt at Purdue will be one of the most anticipated games of the entire college basketball season. Michigan State and Purdue, much like last preseason, will be the subject of much banter with regards to the expected conference champion in 2009-10. Purdue once again has nearly every main cog back for another run under coach Matt Painter led by preseason Wooden award finalists E’Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel trying to lock up Raymar Morgan, scoring center JaJuan Johnson, defensive stalwart Chris Kramer, and point guards Keaton Grant and Lewis Jackson attempting to contain Kalin Lucas. Purdue features an intimidating home court, as well (Michigan State is well aware). This game could very well determine the conference title.
Most Anticipated Home Date: Since both the North Carolina and Texas games are on the road, and Gonzaga won’t be quite as feared as previous campaigns, the vote goes to Purdue. The Big 10 could very well be the best all-around conference in the land this season and these are the top two teams. I cannot possibly stress how huge these two February games will be.
Upset Watch: This is going to drive Michigan State readers bonkers, but if any conference opponent is going to topple the mighty Spartans in East Lansing this season…my vote goes to Michigan. I may be higher on this team than most (mainly because I trust John Beilein so much and they showed tremendous toughness in their two tournament games vs. Clemson and Oklahoma), but I truly feel like if the Wolverines are stroking the outside shot with consistency, Manny Harris has one of his vintage performances, DeShawn Sims and Laval Lucas-Perry ratchet it up a notch, Zack Novak and Stu Douglass sprinkle in the occasional dagger three…Michigan is dangerous (plenty of if’s, I know). The fact this rivalry game takes place in March means the Spartans will be focused, though.
Best Individual Matchup: Michigan State won’t be able to throw defensive mastermind Travis Walton on the opposition’s top scoring guard this season, so I’ll be keeping an eye on how Spartan wings Chris Allen and Durrell Summers contain Matt Bouldin in that November meeting with Gonzaga. Bouldin really came alive at the tail end of last season and knows he’s the go-to scorer for Mark Few this season. Bouldin can really shoot the three (42% in 08-09) and gets to the free throw line frequently. Without Walton to rely on, these State wings (and even point guards like Kalin Lucas and Korie Lucious) must step up defensively and Bouldin is the initial test.
Rush the Court Potential: Much like Kansas, the Spartan faithful hope to be rushing the court in April at Indianapolis. Okay, maybe clinching a Big 10 title at home in either March home game may warrant such celebration. Michigan State played their best basketball when it mattered last season and Tom Izzo is one of the best coaches in the business. He’ll keep his squad hungry and prepared with a challenging schedule (expect them to be top-5 in SOS all year) in hopes of grabbing a #1 seed and marching to another title game in April. This time with a different outcome, of course.