The Spartans have been No. 1 since knocking off Kentucky three weeks ago.
Climbing to the top of rankings is difficult, but staying there is an even bigger challenge.
A marked team, No. 1-ranked Michigan State (7-0) will get an extra effort each night it takes the floor, especially on the road. For some teams, hosting the top-ranked Spartans will serve as a March Madness-like game well before the actual tournament.
For other teams there won't be an appearance in the tourney, so giving it to the Spartans is the only shot at glory.
This slideshow will look at the dreaded “trap games” that await Michigan State.
Texas was an up-and-coming power just a few years ago. Did the window pass for Texas, or is it still a viable contender?
The Spartans and Longhorns (7-1) have a somewhat heated history. Pair that with a hostile environment at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas, and Michigan State will be in for a fight on Dec. 21.
Proof that Michigan State is beatable at the Breslin Center; Texas left East Lansing, Mich., in 2010 with a 67-55 victory over the then-No. 12 team in the land. A year earlier, the Horns got 23 points from Damian James during a 79-68 win in Austin.
Michigan State and Texas were both ranked in the Top 25 in each matchup, so it was not exactly an upset or “trap game”—and of course, that was then and this is now. But there is history, albeit brief, between the two programs.
Tom Izzo has new personnel, and the same goes for Rick Barnes, who could be “coaching for his job,” according to Peter Bean of Burnt Orange Nation (SB Nation). Look for Texas to play like it’s out for a national title.
John Groce is working to get Illinois back to where it once was—the top of the Big Ten.
Beating Illinois isn’t easy. Throw out the rankings and expectations—the Illini aren’t ranked and expectations are pretty low—when the Spartans travel to the State Farm Center in Champaign, Ill. on Jan. 18.
Coach John Groce has been aggressive on the recruiting trail in an attempt to bump up the Illini in the pecking order. As of now, they’re picked to finish seventh in the Big Ten by CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish.
Again, classifying a conference road game as a “trap game” stretches the term a bit.
Nonetheless, the Spartans will face a team looking for a benchmark program victory to get the Groce era in full swing. There could be a repeat of 2012’s matchup with Izzo’s Spartans, who entered Champaign as the No. 9-ranked team in the nation but left with a 42-41 loss to an unranked club.
Matt Painter and the Boilermakers were picked to finish in the middle of the Big Ten pack.
Like the Illini, the Boilermakers are attempting to climb back to their former perch—the top of the Big Ten. Coached by Matt Painter, Purdue has enjoyed the benefits of being a conference power since 2007.
Now a sophomore, Ronnie Johnson will be the key Feb. 20 at Mackey Arena. He’s averaging nearly 13 points and close to four assists per game—plus he has sophomore A.J. Hammons, a 7’0”, 251-pound double-double on two legs.
The Boilermakers have enough athleticism to keep the battle with the Spartans close. Coaching is obviously another factor though. Painter's X’s and O’s stand up to any other coach in college basketball, but he hasn’t beaten Izzo since 2011.
This one should be yet another classic Big Ten wrestling match.
It's always fun when Aaron Craft and Keith Appling link up.
The Spartans and Buckeyes will play in the 2013 Big Ten Football Championship Game this weekend. A bout between the basketball teams on March 9 in Columbus, Ohio, could go a long way toward determining the seeding in the 2013 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament.
Ohio State is ranked No. 5 in hoops and may be the best team in the country. Michigan State would probably have something to say about that.
The stage is now set.
Thad Matta has the senior leadership of Aaron Craft as an advantage. Players like Craft don't come along very often, and college basketball followers should applaud his display of loyalty. He's in for the long haul and has dedicated four years to Buckeyes basketball.
Izzo has athletes who also epitomize the college game: Adreian Payne and Keith Appling are just two examples of the four-year players suiting up in East Lansing. Put them up against Craft, and there will be 12 years of combined Big Ten experience rubbing elbows on the court at Value City Arena.
Those three are certainly worthy of mention as some of the top Big Ten ballers in recent memory.
By definition, a conference road clash with an equal or better team isn't a "trap game," but March 9 could be the day that the Big Ten is won. It's important for the Spartans and Buckeyes to treat that match accordingly.
Spectators will get two of the best in college basketball when Izzo and his bunch take on Matta and the Buckeyes.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81