2010-11 RTC Class Schedule: Michigan State SpartansPosted by zhayes9 on September 2nd, 2010
Zach Hayes is a editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court. To see the entire group of 2010-11 Class Schedules, click here.
If there’s one guarantee when it comes to Michigan State on an annual basis, it’s this: more often than not, the Spartans are playing their best basketball in March when the chips are down and the spotlight shines all that brighter. Since the 1997-98 season, Tom Izzo’s team is an extraordinary 98 games over .500 in Big Ten play and have notched five regular season conference titles, so it’s not as if the Spartans go through the motions for four months before kicking it into high gear in the NCAA Tournament. Still, when Izzo and his program are mentioned on a national scale, it’s normally their spring success that defines the last 13 years at the helm: 9 Sweet 16 berths, 7 Elite 8 appearances, 5 Semifinal Saturday’s and that glorious national title in 2000. Prognosticating is never easy, but judging by the talent returning for Izzo in 2010-11, the Breslin Center rafters may have to clear room for another banner.
Team Outlook: Whether Kalin Lucas would have made the difference in Michigan State upending Butler and Duke in last season’s Final Four is up for contentious debate, but one silver lining Spartan fans realized when Lucas tore his Achilles was that they’d have their former Big Ten Player of the Year back for his senior season. While it should take Lucas weeks into the season to regain full health and confidence, he’s surrounded by a supporting cast that can pick up the slack. Draymond Green will be thrust into a starting role he should handle, a unique point-forward with tremendous court vision that can also score inside. A focused Durrell Summers can explode for three-point binges bordering on unstoppable, although he must mold himself into a stronger and more consistent perimeter defender in the absence of transfer Chris Allen. Delvon Roe may finally prove healthy for an entire campaign and Izzo brought in freshman Adreian Payne to aid him in the post. Pending Izzo’s decision on how to handle a recent drunk driving incident, Korie Lucious proved a capable sub for Lucas in State’s tournament push while Keith Appling is another guard with a bright future off the Spartan bench. Michigan State is talented, deep, phenomenally coached and will play in March atmospheres every night in the rugged Big Ten. A preseason #2 ranking will likely follow when October rolls around for a program and a coach that’s used to winning under the brunt of sky-high expectations and a challenging schedule.
Non-Conference Schedule Rank (ranked 1 thru 10, 10 being the most difficult): 9.5. Combine Izzo’s always-aggressive scheduling strategy with a loaded Big Ten and Michigan State’s slate for the 2010-11 season rivals any Big East death march since that conference expanded. A home date in ESPN’s Tip-Off against South Carolina shouldn’t prove too dramatic of a challenge but the Spartans voyage to Maui will be if a championship goal is met. Believe it or not, Wichita State is a tougher semifinal matchup than Connecticut this season, the preseason Missouri Valley favorite that returns a good chunk of their balanced scoring output. A potential finals meeting with either Kentucky or Washington is waiting should State avoid a “shocking” upset (get it? Wichita State Shockers? Never mind). As a much-needed break a week following Maui, Michigan State gets to face Duke in Cameron Indoor, the loaded preseason #1 team in the nation for what should be the highlight game before the calendar turns to 2011. A week later? The Jimmy V Classic against Syracuse. I’m not done- in late December the Spartans continue their series with Texas on their home floor in East Lansing. That’s the potential to face plenty of stiff competition heading into a treacherous Big Ten.
Cupcake City: As any Divison I coach would at this high of a level, Izzo managed to sneak in a few cupcakes to give his Spartans brief reprieves around those hyped matchups. As the team projected to do the most damage this season, State draws Division II Chaminade in their quarterfinal Maui game. The Spartans open the regular season against Eastern Michigan on November 12 and will face Tennessee Tech in their first game back from the islands. One team that could give the Spartans a bit of a scare is Oakland, last year’s Summit champions that received the tremendous news this spring that Keith Benson would be returning for his senior season. If the Golden Grizzlies secondary pieces can step up following the losses of Johnathon Jones and Derick Nelson, this battle at Auburn Hills could be a sneaky one for Izzo. The only other semi-soft team on the docket is Bowling Green. Combine this non-conference schedule with what’s expected to be a strong in-conference slate and it’d be shocking if the Spartans didn’t finish the season with a top-three SOS, which is always a welcomed RPI booster.
Toughest Early Season Test: This one is fairly obvious, no? One year after being thrown to the wolves at what ended up being an underachieving North Carolina squad, it’s Michigan State once again making the trek to Tobacco Road to face likely-#1 Duke on December 1. When Izzo received the news that Lucas was returning to go with an already established core, he had to know the ACC/Big Ten Challenge would likely pit his Spartans in the most marquee contest possible. I can easily envision Duke pulling off similar to what Kansas accomplished last season- nearly a wire-to-wire spot atop the rankings with two or three slip-ups all season long. Although I’m of the opinion they’ll miss Jon Scheyer, Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek more than anticipated given how challenging it is to find a team that played their roles so effectively as last season’s Blue Devil squad mastered, there’s truly an unfair amount of talent returning to the defending champs. Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith are both ACC Player of the Year candidates, Coach K lured the top incoming guard in the nation to Durham in Kyrie Irving, they boast the Plumlee brothers in the post and Seth Curry is quite the weapon off the bench. The Spartans will have their hands full in Durham especially if Lucas isn’t playing at 100% to limit Duke’s dynamic frosh.
Hardest Big Ten Stretch: A substantial portion of the month of February will be challenging for the Spartans. From February 6 to February 26, State plays six games, five of which will be brutal. It starts with a trip to Wisconsin, a voyage that ended the Spartans perfect Big Ten mark a season ago and an arena where the Badgers dominate the large majority of opponents. The one breather will come at home against Penn State, although if Talor Battle gets obscenely hot anything can happen. No double-duty with Ohio State will be welcomed, but the Spartans are obligated to visit Columbus on February 15. The Buckeyes could be a top-ten team and return everyone not named Evan Turner. A visit from Gameday to East Lansing for the Illinois game follows, a squad Doug Gottlieb pitted to win the Big Ten this week. The Barn is never an easy place to win as Izzo’s team visits Minnesota next. The strenuous stretch concludes with a highlighted duel against co-Big Ten favorite Purdue. Honestly, if Michigan State just finds a way to finish 3-3 in this stretch, they should win the conference.
Easiest Big Ten Stretch: Trips to West Lafayette and Madison sandwiching these three games would be pointed out by Izzo immediately, but from January 27 to February 2 the Spartans should easily handle their three games on the slate- home vs. Michigan, home vs. Indiana and at Iowa. The rival Wolverines resembled their football team this summer during an unsuccessful trip to Belgium and the losses of Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims from last year’s disappointing squad. Indiana may prove frisky at Assembly Hall, but State should easily handle the young Hoosiers in the friendly confines. Fran McCaffrey may end up being the answer at Iowa. It won’t happen this year, though. Michigan State also finishes the season home vs. Iowa and at Michigan. This may prove huge if the race for the regular season title is tight.
Best Individual Matchup: E’Twaun Moore. Say that name to the most diehard green-and-white clad Spartan diehard and surely a cringe will follow. Last year, Purdue traveled to East Lansing when the Spartans sorely needed a boosting victory coming off road defeats to Wisconsin and Illinois. A furious second half fun by State was matched by Moore’s heroic performance down the stretch. The senior guard finished with 28 points on 8-14 FG and 4-8 FT to lead the Boilermakers to a huge road win. Chris Allen and Durrell Summers couldn’t handle Moore in East Lansing last year. When Purdue visits State on February 26/27 in what should be a late-season battle with definite repercussions on the conference race, we’ll see how Summers responds on the defensive end. It could determine the outcome.
Most Challenging Road Test: Under Bo Ryan, the Wisconsin Badgers are a ridiculous 136-11 at the Kohl Center, good for a .925 winning percentage. This isn’t Utah State playing in the WAC or even BYU in the MWC, this is a Big Ten school that’s compiled such a lofty winning percentage. Ryan is also 69-6 in conference games since taking over in Madison, and one of those 69 wins came last season in relatively easy fashion against a then-unblemished Michigan State team at 9-0 in the Big Ten. Purdue is in all likelihood stiffer competition for the Spartans, but you won’t find a more difficult place to emerge victorious on the road in the country than Wisconsin. Just ask Tom Izzo. He’s never beaten the Badgers in front of the Grateful Red with Ryan at the helm.
Most Anticipated Home Date: As was mentioned earlier in the Moore-Summers part, Purdue is absolutely the most anticipated home date on the Spartans schedule. The Boilermakers received excellent news this spring- much like Izzo received when Lucas was forced to return- when Moore and talented center JaJuan Johnson opted for a senior season at school. Lewis Jackson will be 100% following last November’s foot injury that hindered his sophomore campaign. Matt Painter is also hoping First Team All-Big Ten performer Robbie Hummel stays healthy for a full season. These two Big Ten rivals always seem to headline the preseason argument regarding who stands tallest in the conference. Guess what? Purdue and Michigan State could be better than ever. The Izzone will be waiting.
Upset Watch: State’s first Big Ten road game will pit Sparty against upstart Northwestern in Evanston. The loss of Kevin Coble stings, yet the refrain around the Wildcat team this summer is that they still feel a winning conference campaign is within reach. Oh yeah, I’m also obligated to mention they’ve never made an NCAA Tournament. John Shurna shone as Coble’s replacement last season as an all-around dynamo offensively. Juice Thompson is an experienced and trusted point guard, a key to any successful team. Drew Crawford was one of the more impressive newcomers to the Big Ten a season ago and head coach Bill Carmody is excited about incoming freshman Jershon Cobb. The Wildcats are no longer a walkover within the conference. This is a dangerous road game for Izzo and Co. against a program looking to make a statement nationally.