A traditional pre-season top 25? They’re fairly ubiquitous this time of year. Everyone has one, but from Duke to Mississippi Valley State and in between, there’s a lot of intriguing teams for the upcoming college basketball season.
In ascending order of squads that pique our interest, our list consists of teams with a rare chance to make noise, have a lot to prove, quirky schedules, or are just named Kentucky.
Follow along. Story lines aren’t just for the nation’s elite.
Not many people were prepared to accept it, but Tom Izzo nearly bailed on the program he spent 15 years building into a powerhouse. Just like a married man sauntering over to the hot blonde in a red dress at the bar, Izzo was ready to throw everything away so he could build his own legacy "coaching" LeBron James and a few friends in the NBA. Naturally, when the news broke, Izzo's supporters were in collective disbelief. Heck, they still might be.
There was only one problem. The validity of the rumor itself was in question by MSU fans because, quite honestly, it just didn't make any sense. Izzo just got done leading the Spartans to their second consecutive Final Four. Why on Earth would he want to bail right then and there? This is the undisputed king of East Lansing, and one of the most respected coaches in the sport we're talking about here. Why was he so eager to let a 25-year-old "King" suffering from delusions of grandeur order him around? The logic of this near-decision was baffling.
Even though Izzo finally came to his senses and reassured fans that he wasn't going anywhere, the fact remains that James clearly had the power to bring the MSU coach to Cleveland if he really wanted to. And if James had opted to stay and re-sign with his hometown team, then who's to say that Izzo wouldn't be on the sidelines for the Cavs right now? Funny how that works.
So while injuries, troubled players and legal issues (see below) have all managed to keep this team in the news for the wrong reasons this offseason, Izzo's role as a leader might be more important than ever. Their savior intact, Michigan State fans couldn't be happier.
What happened this summer?
Troubled three point specialist Chris Allen was kicked off the team and subsequently transferred to Iowa State. Weeks before his 21st birthday, Korie Lucious was nabbed for drunken driving and will miss the season opener. Accusations of a sexual assault against unnamed players created a stir across the country. A stress fracture might halt prized recruit Russell Byrd from seeing the floor as a freshman.
Games that really matter
- 11/16 vs. South Carolina
- 12/1 @ Duke
- 12/7 vs. Syracuse
- 12/11 vs. Oakland
- 12/22 vs. Texas
- 1/3 @ Northwestern
- 1/11 vs. Wisconsin
- 1/18 @ Illinois
- 1/22 @ Purdue
- 1/30 vs. Indiana
- 2/6 @ Wisconsin
- 2/15 @ Ohio State
- 2/19 vs. Illinois
- 2/26 vs. Purdue
3/5 @ Michigan
Most intriguing player
Kalin Lucas (6'0" guard; senior) – Make no mistake, Draymond Green is the beast and Durrell Summers the resident freak around these parts, but you're kidding yourself if you think the Spartans are going to make another Final Four without Lucas leading the charge. After tearing his Achilles' tendon in March, Lucas spent hours and hours rehabbing this summer and is finally back to health. The dribble-driving floor general was one of the best players in college hoops during MSU's title run in '09, and you should expect him to be hungrier than ever in his final year of eligibility. Big Ten opponents better prepare for 'The Wayne Brady Show' in 2011.
What’s on the line?
A third consecutive Final Four appearance and 14th straight ticket to the dance. Michigan State has also been home to the Big Ten's 1st Team All-American at point guard for the past four seasons (Drew Neitzel 07-08, Lucas 09-10). Rather curiously, this team has been eliminated from the Big Ten Tournament TEN straight times. An awful streak like that might hold some weight if Izzo's teams consistently flopped in the NCAA Tournament, but that couldn't be further from the truth. In the meantime we'll just go ahead and sweep that disgusting statistic under the rug.
Michigan State's propensity for scheduling anybody in the country is quite evident when you look at their non-conference schedule. Along with Texas, Duke and Syracuse is a stacked field at the Maui Invitational including Kentucky, Washington and Connecticut. Even for a core roster comprised mostly of upperclassmen, these tough early-season games are almost always a beneficial learning tool for Izzo and his team when it counts. Win or lose in December, the Spartans are going to be a drastically different team when March rolls around. The injury to Robbie Hummel should open the door for another Big Ten regular season title, and we like the Spartans to make plenty of noise in the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year.
- Conference: 1st
- Postseason: NCAA Final Four