This Friday, the Michigan State basketball team will once again be opening up the college basketball season, doing so for the second straight year.
Also for the second straight year, Michigan State will be opening up the college basketball season in a rather unique way.
Last year, the Spartans got the season underway by playing against the North Carolina Tar Heels, playing aboard the USS Carl Vinson in San Diego, California. In front of thousands of servicemen and even the nation’s president, Barack Obama, Michigan State and North Carolina played in a historic game in which North Carolina eventually came out on top 67-55.
Flash forward to this year, and in order for Michigan State to kick off the season, they will be flying all the way over to Germany to take on Connecticut in the Armed Forces Classic at the Ramstein Air Base.
This is not something completely out of the norm for Michigan State though, a school that has taken part in many unique sporting events over the past 12 years or so. After all, they have one of the most imaginative Athletic Directors in the country in Mark Hollis, who has had a large part in envisioning several of those unique sporting events over the years.
Some of these events include the “Cold War” hockey game played outdoors in 2001 at Spartan Stadium between Michigan and Michigan State, the “Basketbowl” game played between Michigan State and Kentucky at Ford Field in 2003, and culminating with the game played aboard the USS Carl Vinson last year, as well as the game this year played at the Ramstein Air Base.
“For our athletic director to come up with the things he comes up with, the guy is incredible. He’s incredible,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said of Hollis. “Michigan State is a better place because of what this guy has done.”
As for the actual game that will shake out, the 14th ranked Spartans will be looking to start their season out with a win, and should be favored to do so against an unranked and inexperienced Huskies squad.
The last time these two teams met was in the 2010 Maui Invitational. In that game also, the Spartans were highly ranked and heavily favored to defeat a relatively young and inexperienced Husky team. However, UConn guard Kemba Walker went berserk, scoring 30 points for the Huskies, downing the Spartans 70-67.
In the matchup this year, Michigan State is also a very young team, with 8 of their 11 available scholarship players either a freshman or sophomore. Nevertheless, much of the team has had experience playing on big stages like this and the focus is still there.
“I think it’s a little different this time,” redshirt sophomore Russell Byrd said “There is a little more focus on getting a win. Last time [on the aircraft carrier] it was more about enjoying the experience but this time we know we should beat these guys and we want to beat these guys.”
And Michigan State should be poised to just that. They are currently coming off of a very successful 29-8 season in which they won the B1G tournament and clinched a number 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament before falling to Louisville in the Sweet Sixteen. Although they lost a do-everything leader in Draymond Green, the Spartans have reloaded with one of their most talented recruiting classes in recent history with Gary Harris, Denzel Valentine and Matt Costello.
UConn, on the other hand, comes into this game coming off a 20-14 season. A disappointing season in a way, a year following a National Championship .This year looks to be a rebuilding season as they have lost two of their top players including their leading scorer Jeremy Lamb (17.7 ppg) and leading rebounder in Andre Drummond (7.6 rpg). Along with the loss of two of their top two players, Connecticut will experience life with a new coach, as long time UConn head coach Jim Calhoun announced his retirement in the offseason. Taking over for Calhoun will be long time Huskies assistant, Kevin Ollie.
In the end, Michigan State’s depth should prove too much too handle for a young and rebuilding Connecticut team. Nevertheless, as Michigan State and Connecticut duke it out on the court Friday night, history will once again be made as they open up the 2012-2013 college basketball season.
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