#2 Michigan State Basketball: Champions Classic Preview vs #1 Duke

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Just a year ago, it was believed by most that Paradise Lost had already come to Michigan State athletics. The Golden Era of MSU sports peaked in 2015 with both Michigan State basketball and Spartans football reaching the final four. For one brief shining moment there was Camelot. Then it crashed the following season with football inexplicably going just 3-9 last season, and hoops registering only a 20-15 mark. 

By Michigan State basketball standards, not reaching the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend/double digit losses is a failure. Well, that’s ancient history in Sparta now, as both program are trending up again. (Yes, Saturday in Columbus totally SUCKED, but hey this year saw State controlling their own destiny for a B1G championship into mid November, which is all you could have asked for after last year’s 3-9)

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Tomorrow night sees #2 Michigan State basketball take on #1 Duke at the United Center in Chicago.

For Tom Izzo’s team, expectations are sky high. Lindy’s picked them #1 and national champions, while Athlon has them #2 and national runner-up. #GoGreen #GoWhite

Key Players:

Miles Bridges will be just a bridge too far for most opponents to defend as he’s more talented than anybody on most opposing rosters; by miles.

I’ll show myself out.

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Bridges was ready to leap to the NBA last season, but shocked everybody by coming back to East Lansing and now he’s a Naismith and Wooden Award preseason front-runner. The 6-7 forward has a Blake Griffin skill set and could end up with a very similar collegiate basketball career story arc.

Lourawls Tum Tum Nairn Jr. (we’re really going to miss saying/typing that name once he’s gone) is the second leading minutes per game man among the returnees. However, it looks like Cassius Winston, now better conditioned, might take over running the point. McDonald’s All-American Joshua Langford was slowed by an injured hamstring last season, but this year could be the year he shows that blue chip potential.

He should have a career in the league ahead of him.

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As always, click on the name of any of the Michigan State basketball players where highlighted for a profile story on them.

Jaren Jackson Jr. is a five star, McDonald’s All-American who will likely join Bridges in the NBA Draft lottery come June. Also, Chicagoan (Lincoln Park) Gavin Schilling is back and should play a substantial role, as will Nick Ward, Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins.

Key Games:

There is no such thing as Game of the Century type deal in college basketball, like there is in college football, and even if there were, it certainly wouldn’t be in early November. However, #1 Duke vs #2 MSU Tuesday comes close. No offense to the mighty Ospreys of North Florida, but the regular season actually begins then.

The Spartans will face either UConn or Oregon in Portland in a Thanksgiving tournament.

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Top 15 Notre Dame comes to the Breslin Center November 30, to complete the non-conference schedule big ones. They only face arch-rival Michigan once- at home on January 13. Top contenders Northwestern and Purdue are also one-plays (Boilers come to Breslin Feb 10) while Sparty visits the Cats Feb 17.

State also lucks out again by getting Rutgers and Nebraska, the league’s two worst teams, as their early December conference opponents. Thus Mich St. gets to ease into it regarding league play.

Strengths:

Michigan State basketball is used to being a national title favorite when people fill out their brackets in March, but having these kinds of expectations in November is rather rare for Izzo’s men. Spartans are big, strong, fast, long, lean, offensively prolific and balanced. They have excellent team chemistry and depth.

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Weaknesses:

The defensive end of the floor must catch up to the offensive end, and turnovers were a major issue last season. #SpartansWill have to go a very long way towards cleaning that up if they are to achieve anything of note this year.

Also, the annual “lose very badly and inexplicably to an inexcusable opponent here and there in mid/late December to early/mid February, before steamrolling everyone in March” bit is fine, almost a winter at rite of passage at this point.

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However, one of these years it’s going to ruin the Michigan State basketball tourney profile so badly that it will derail the entire season. Be wary.

Realistic Outlook:

Izzo has certainly earned the title Mr. March as he’s 29-7 during his career in first and second round NCAA Tournament games. He’s 16-6 in sweet sixteen and elite 8 contests. However, he’s definitely not Mr. April, as he’s just 3-6 on Final Four weekend. To be fair though, who really does have an elite winning percentage on the tourney’s final weekend?

It’s really rarified air.

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This season, simply put, will be judged solely on what occurs that final weekend.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net and TheBank.News, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for the Washington Times, NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, currently contributes regularly to WGN CLTV and the Tribune corporation blogging community Chicago Now.

Follow him on TwitterInstagramSound Cloud, LinkedIn and YouTube.

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