Michigan State Basketball: Games Most Likely to Lead to Spartans' 1st Loss
As of November 26, the Spartans are undefeated (6-0) and are serious contenders for both the Big Ten title and the NCAA national championship.
Being the unbeaten, top-ranked team in college basketball, head coach Tom Izzo's squad has a target on its back. They will get everyone's best shot every game.
How much longer can they continue with a perfect record?
Here are five upcoming games that present the best chances for them to go down in their first defeat of the 2013-14 season.
North Carolina (Dec. 4)
As usual, North Carolina is a deep and talented team that has the potential to play with anyone in the nation. Early in the 2013-14 season, the Tar Heels already have an exhilarating win over Louisville.
Head coach Roy Williams is getting outstanding play from Marcus Paige. The 6'1" sophomore has slid over to the shooting guard position and is leading UNC in both scoring (22.4 PPG) and assists (3.6 APG).
Look for Carolina to take advantage of its depth down low to wear down the Spartans.
When Michigan State and North Carolina meet, we will see two of the most dynamic offensive teams in the country. According to KenPom.com, the Spartans are currently No. 9 (115.6) in adjusted offensive efficiency, while the Tar Heels are close behind them at No. 14 (114.8).
As successful as Tom Izzo has been in his coaching career, he has not figured out how to beat North Carolina with any regularity. Going into this game, Izzo is 2-8 against UNC.
At Texas (Dec. 21)
Even though Texas has had two consecutive substandard seasons, the Longhorns are showing signs of recovery.
They have started off the 2013-14 season by winning five of their first six games.
Sophomore guard Javan Felix is leading the team in scoring (14.4 PPG) and assists (4 APG). Head coach Rick Barnes has inside power with Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley clogging the lane and protecting the rim.
Michigan State has only played the Longhorns in Austin one time (Dec. 2009) and they lost. They have squared off five times on neutral courts, with the Spartans winning three of those contests.
All together, Tom Izzo is 4-4 against Rick Barnes and UT. Because Texas plays much better these days at home as opposed to the road, this could be more competitive than most might anticipate.
At Indiana (Jan. 4)
If Michigan State is still undefeated by this time, they will be 13-0 as they travel to Bloomington for this classic Big Ten battle.
Even though Indiana head coach Tom Crean had to replace four of his five starters from last year's team, the Hoosiers are showing early on that they are not in rebuilding mode in 2013-14.
IU's point guard, Yogi Ferrell, has become Crean's leading scorer (19.5 PPG), while still pacing the team in playmaking (4.2 APG). Freshman power forward Noah Vonleh has not received the national attention that other first-year players have garnered, but he is averaging a double-double (12.8 PPG; 10.2 RPG) while only putting in 21 minutes per game. Vonleh gives the Hoosiers a legitimate inside scoring threat.
Michigan State will need to work hard to keep IU off the offensive glass. According to KenPom.com, the Hoosiers are currently No. 8 in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (45.3 percent).
Assembly Hall has not been a place where the Spartans have done well over the past several years, going 4-11 during Izzo's tenure.
This season's early January collision will most likely come down to the last possession.
Ohio State (Jan. 7)
If Michigan State survives their road game against Indiana on Jan. 4 without a loss, they will then come home to face Ohio State three days later. There is an outside chance the Spartans and Buckeyes could both enter this contest with undefeated records.
Thad Matta's squad has started off the 2013-14 season by winning their first five games.
Of their eight remaining nonconference games, OSU plays all of them at home except for a neutral-site contest against Notre Dame on Dec. 21.
The Buckeyes' first two Big Ten games should be Ws against Nebraska and a road tilt against Purdue.
Two undefeated conference contenders going at it would be a must-see college hoops clash.
While Ohio State puts a lot of scoring potential on the floor, their ability to shut down opponents on the defensive end is their calling card. The Buckeyes are No. 3 in the nation in scoring defense (51.5 PPG), No. 6 in three-point field-goal defense (20 percent) and No. 8 in field-goal percentage defense (34.4 percent).
The numbers might change as the season goes on, but Ohio State's defensive strength is going to make the difference.
At Illinois (Jan. 18)
The only reason for putting this game on the list is that some schools just struggle playing certain teams on the road.
It is not clear why Michigan State has trouble winning when they play at Illinois.
Since 2001, the Spartans are 3-8 at the Fighting Illini's State Farm Center.
Most of those years, MSU had better teams than Illinois. However, when the final horn sounded, Tom Izzo's squads have often looked up at the scoreboard and shook their heads.
If Michigan State makes it to this game without a loss, they will be sporting a sparkling 17-0 record. They will be looking to further establish themselves as Big Ten title contenders and national champion favorites.
Another disappointing upset in Champaign would alter the Spartans' momentum.