Carrier Classic: ’09 National Championship Rematch Reaches New Heights


For the Michigan State basketball team, the tests that the players take in the classroom are probably a breeze compared to the tests Tom Izzo gives them.

How’s this for a multiple-choice question? To open your season you will:

a)  Face a  #1 ranked UNC squad

b)  Face a top-ten Duke team at Madison Square Garden

c)   Face a Gonzaga team in a game that has packed much more meaning in the past few years on the ‘Zags’ home court.

d)   Face a Florida State team that did maximum damage in the ACC last season

e)   All of the above

If you guessed E, you’re correct and you probably already know that a heavy-hitting schedule for Tom Izzo’s team isn’t even a surprise anymore. It’s expected. The words “cupcake schedule” don’t fly in East Lansing.

But opening on this tough tear may be just the swift kick-start that puts a little hair on the chests of this young remodeled team of Spartans players.

But this year, even Tom Izzo has outdone himself.

When he made his entrance at Midnight Madness last month, he donned a “Top Gun” outfit, and it’s appropriate seeing that his team opens its season in the much-anticipated Quicken Loans Carrier Classic in San Diego, California against #1 UNC.

Not only will this be a rematch of the 2009 NCAA national championship game (that UNC claimed), this Veterans Day gets an extra dose of swag because it’ll be the first time a pro or college basketball game will take place on an aircraft carrier.

Yes, an aircraft carrier. The USS Carl Vinson, to be exact.

Both coaches have voiced how excited they are to be part of such an important game, and to in turn have this chance to honor the men and women who serve and have served this country. For the players, too, the game holds much more meaning—MSU’s Austin Thornton gave his take on why the game hits closer to home for him, and five UNC players have ties to the troops.

Even President Obama will be in attendance. This game’s got presidential status, y’all. You know that ballers on both teams are gonna play like this is a GOP debate, and may the best man win.

“When this thing came to fruition this year, it’s exciting. And then when you think about it for our veterans and to bring something to the light — we were over in Kuwait, we talked to the troops. What can we do for you? And it was always just send the word that we’re fighting for all of you back home.

And I don’t think we appreciate that enough. There’s always controversy why we’re in wars and what we’re doing, and I understand that controversy. But still the guys doing the battle, they don’t get to choose.
And so bringing some light to that and then it just happens to be in the ship, The Vincent, and the drama keeps going. And Magic’s going to be there, the President’s going to be there, and unfortunately those three guys that were supposed to leave last year from Carolina are going to be there. So it’s going to be one hell of a deal, and we’re looking forward to it,” said Izzo at the league’s media day.

So who will that best man be?

Harrison Barnes

UNC’s Harrison Barnes, fresh off that very smart decision to decline testing the NBA draft waters, was a monster last year for the Tar Heels. He’s a year older, wiser and more experienced. That’s what’s even scarier. He was a freshman, and he was freakishly good. While you were probably learning how to navigate campus, classes and frat parties during your first year, Barnes was schooling all his opposing court classmates in a little 5-on-5 game I like to call, “Watch me do something athletically awesome that’ll probably earn me a spot on SportsCenter’s Top Ten plays tonight.”

And don’t forget about the man who towers over everyone else in the room—7’0 Tyler Zeller. He’s a proven shot-blocker and rebounder, and his match-up with MSU’s Derrick Nix should be interesting.

In terms of quickness, MSU doesn’t have a real speed star since graduating Kalin Lucas, so UNC’s Dexter Strickland may get ahead of himself (and everyone else on the court) and prove why he had his team’s fastest mile time during the preseason.

In terms of experience, UNC returns a team of players that know how to play big games in front of a big crowd, while this MSU team is full of many newcomers. Look for this to play a key factor in the outcome of this match.

So bottom line, will this MSU team be able to match up?

If Draymond Green has anything to say, it’ll be, “Don’t forget about me.” Dr. Dray is THE face of the Spartans right now—he’s the new-age Mateen Cleaves, and he’s cut down on body fat, put on more muscle and gained even more experience playing on USA’s World University team during the summer. You better believe the senior will have his game face on.

Look to see how Valpo transfer Brandon Wood handles his first true test with his new team. Izzo said everyone in the front office loves Wood’s “intangibles,” but will they translate into a key performance?

It’ll also be interesting to see what MSU does with freshman point guard Travis Trice and sophomore guard Keith Appling. Will both men rotate at the PG spot, or will Izzo have Appling run out on the wing?

While most people predict a win by Roy Williams’s  top-ranked team, look for Tom Izzo and his green and white squad to make this game interesting.

For more on MSU expectations this season go here

For a Michigan State season preview

To see what the Spartans landed on National Signing day go here and here

To see State’s special camo jerseys for this game

For a North Carolina season preview

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