Michigan State Basketball: Nonconference Schedule Shows Tom Izzo Is Still Crazy
Serving as an early barometer, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo consistently and purposefully throws upper-echelon teams on his nonconference schedule to test his team's stomach.
So far, so good. Izzo's asking-for-it mentality when it comes to clashing with the big boys has paid dividends in the form of six Final Fours and Big Ten supremacy.
A chip on the shoulder would benefit the Spartans this year. The loss to coach Mike Krzyzewski's Duke Blue Devils in the Sweet 16 was more than a loss. It's also more than enough motivation for players such as Gary Harris, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling, who lead a group poised to romp toward March.
Izzo's program is respected by many, but likewise is true for Kentucky, Texas and Georgetown, three of his nonconference opponents this season. There are matchups, both individually and teamwise, that have nightmare potential for the Spartans.
The Spartans may not exactly dread their Nov. 22 meeting with Virginia Tech in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. But the Hokies certainly have a lot to prove, which makes them dangerous.
Finishing 4-14 in ACC play and 13-19 overall in 2012-13, the Hokies will be without leading scorer Erick Green when they face a juggernaut on a national stage.
Oh, and it's the first meeting between the two schools, making this Big Ten-ACC battle all the more interesting to follow.
With Joey Van Zegeren, Virginia Tech coach James Johnson has an athlete who is capable of contending with the Spartans frontcourt. The 6'10", 225-pound redshirt sophomore has an above-average arsenal in the post, great rebounding skills and plenty of length to compensate for mistakes.
In all likelihood, Michigan State will emerge with a decisive victory. But it's games like this one that command caution. Although not a premier team, the Hokies hail from a strong conference. That has to be taken into account.
Combined, there are nine sophomores and freshmen on the their roster. For those young, upset-minded players, Nov. 22 represents the biggest game of their developing careers. It also represents a potential pairing in March.
No. 1 Kentucky
Kentucky coach John Calipari is never short on talent. When it comes to college basketball, his program is a 5-star destination for 5-star athletes.
That being said, the Spartans could find themselves in a pre-Final Four showdown Nov. 12 when they meet the Wildcats in Chicago.
Typically a favorite to win it all, Kentucky enters 2013 with the No. 1-ranked recruiting class, per 247Sports. In 2012-13, an NCAA Tournament bid eluded Calipari. This year, though, could be much different. The crew out of Lexington is ranked No. 1 in ESPN's preseason poll and returns forward Alex Poythress, who averaged 11 points and six rebounds in 2012-13 as a freshman.
Michigan State and Texas have a history. They've faced each other as nonconference opponents, and they've met in the NCAA Tournament.
The 'Horns and Spartans should provide a March-like feel when they play Dec. 21 in Austin. However, Texas won't have the help of Myck Kabongo, who, before entering the NBA draft, averaged a team-high 14.6 points per game this past year.
The offense will also be without Sheldon McClellan, who averaged 13.5 points before transferring to Miami (Fla.).
Looking to get back on track, Texas could stun the Spartans this winter.
No. 11 North Carolina
With or without P.J. Hairston, the Tar Heels should put up a great fight Dec. 4 when they play the Spartans at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.
Hairston, a sophomore, had an offseason riddled with bad driving and run-ins with the law. Coach Roy Williams had no choice but to suspend his leading scorer, but the length and time frame of that suspension is unclear.
North Carolina could certainly use Hairston's 14.6 points per game. But all is not lost without Hairston. James Michael McAdoo could have joined teammate Reggie Bullock in the 2013 NBA draft. Instead, the 6'9", 230-pound forward returned for his sophomore year, giving North Carolina a significant boost in power this season.
A true testament to Tom Izzo's take-no-prisoners approach is the Super Bowl weekend duel with Georgetown at Madison Square Garden.
The Hoyas will be without star Otto Porter, who averaged 16.2 points per game before entering the 2013 draft. But they'll have the help of guard Markel Starks, who averaged about 12 per game.
Two programs with proud histories, this Super Bowl weekend pairing is a dream come true for college hoops fans.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
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