Michigan St. (0-0, 0-0 Big 10) vs #1 North Carolina (0-0, 0-0 ACC)
Of course, today is Veteran’s Day. It is a day to honor the servicemen and servicewomen who have taken on arguably the toughest job a citizen can: Protecting, serving, and defending the honor of one’s country. I sincerely hope that each and every person who is able has sought a veteran and thanked him or her for serving our country.
Since the NBA owners and players have decided to squabble over billions of dollars like the greedy bastards that they truly are, my focus is completely on the start of the 2011-12 men’s college basketball season. Namely, the start of Sparty’s 2011-12 men’s basketball season. What better way to start than by facing the country’s number one-ranked team on an aircraft carrier? Michigan State and North Carolina will play the Carrier Classic on the USS Carl Vinson, the same 1,092 foot-long aircraft carrier that sailed Osama Bin Laden’s body to burial at sea this May.
MSU athletic director Mark Hollis is the man behind this idea, and it’s not the first time he has scheduled Sparty to play in an unusual venue. Michigan and MSU played a hockey game at sold-out Spartan Stadium in 2001, and the men’s basketball team played Kentucky at Ford Field two years later. I was fortunate enough to attend both events, and the experience was not only unique, but extremely satisfying.
This will most likely be Sparty’s toughest test of the season. The supposed best team in the land, North Carolina, returns all five starters from last year’s Elite Eight team that lost to Kentucky in the East Regional championship. Preseason AP All-American Harrison Barnes leads the way for a Tar Heels team that struggled a bit early in finding its footing, but eventually put it all together to finish 29-8, with a 14-2 record in the ACC. Barnes is accompanied by talented forwards John Henson and Tyler Zeller, who along with Barnes, returned to Chapel Hill for another year instead of declaring for the NBA Draft. The Heels won the regular season ACC title and lost in the conference tournament title game to rival Duke.
Sparty comes into the 2011-12 season unranked, and for good reason. The team entered last season ranked #2 in the preseason AP poll, and finished a very disappointing 19-15, 9-9 in the Big 10. The Spartans advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament to lose by 2 to UCLA, although they trailed by as many as 23.
Last year’s starting backcourt for MSU is no more. Point guard Kalin Lucas, the heart and soul of the team, is gone due to graduation and talented but troubled combo guard, Durrell Summers has also departed. Also gone are senior power forward Delvin Roe (knee problems), junior center Garrick Sherman (transferred to Notre Dame), senior point guard Korie Lucious (kicked off the team mid-season and now at Iowa St.), and even incoming freshman shooting guard Dwaun Anderson, who left the team in August, citing personal reasons. Luckily, my favorite player in the country, senior point guard/shooting guard/small forward/power forward/center Draymond Green is back to lead the way, along with sophomore point guard Keith Appling and Valpo transfer, Brandon Wood. Big man Derrick Nix should also be a significant contributor this season, especially in Roe’s absence.
I have no clue what to expect in this game. I’m sure Sparty head coach Tom Izzo has his team fired up and ready to go, mainly because of the fact that they will be playing in front of so many servicemen, servicewomen, and the President of the United States. On the other side, Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams and his guys surely have a sour taste in their mouth after what they feel was a premature exit from last year’s NCAA tournament. Green and Barnes are two of the best players in the country, and viewers shouldn’t be surprised to see the two in more than a few one-on-one situations.
Izzo is no chump. Tough preseason schedules are the norm for Sparty men’s basketball, and this game will be followed by another neutral site matchup against sixth-ranked Duke. I expect a tough showing from Sparty tonight, and would love to see them knock off the number one-ranked team in the land. Will it happen? Let’s hope so.
GO GREEN. GO WHITE.