Spartan Nation can finally put the college football season aside, because college basketball is on the horizon. Coach Tom Izzo’s No. 12 Michigan State clashes with coach Sean Miller’s No. 10 Arizona in the Armed Forces Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii on opening day of the 2016 college basketball season.
Both ball clubs have been struck with early and severe adversity in the preseason. MSU forwards Ben Carter and Gavin Schilling both suffered non-contact knee injuries and are ruled out for an extended period of time.
Meanwhile, Wildcat sophomore sensation Allonzo Trier did not accompany the team’s trip to Hawaii. The university did not reveal what the issues were regarding Trier’s eligibility.
The resilient Izzo will be relying on upperclassman guards Eron Harris and Tum Tum Nairn to fill the gaping void with the departure of the senior trio of Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello.
On the other side, Miller will be depending on veteran guard Kadeem Allen and center Dusan Ristic to pick up the slack in the absence of last year senior standouts Gabe York, Kaleb Tarczewski and Ryan Anderson.
The biggest battle will take place on the interior. Miller is seeking to exploit the depleted MSU frontcourt with a pair of seven-footers in Dusan Ristic and Lauri Markkanen. The Spartans’ biggest key is for Kenny Goins and Nick Ward to stay out of foul trouble so that they have more opportunities to contain Arizona’s bigs by limiting second chance points.
Michigan State will try to counter their disadvantage under the rack with their explosive and raw guard play from Nairn and Harris. On top of that, expect Miles Bridges to lead the charge in shooting, as the do-it-all true freshman netted 53 total points in the Spartans two exhibition games.
“I think he (Bridges) could be one of the most versatile players we’ve had since Jason Richardson,” Izzo said at Big Ten media day. “He shoots it pretty good. He’s stronger than most freshmen. He’s a man-child in that respect.”
This top-15 showdown is only the beginning of a gauntlet of a non-conference schedule for the Spartans. They will face two powerhouses in No. 2 Kentucky in the State Farm Champions Classic (Nov. 15), as well as top ranked Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge (Nov. 29).
Tipoff is Friday at 7:00 ET on ESPN.