EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Tom Izzo is proud of the fact that Michigan State has played anyone, anytime, anywhere with consistently tough nonconference schedules throughout his career.
Playing challenging competition before the Big Ten season begins has prepared the Spartans for conference play and set them up in the NCAA Tournament to make eight runs to the Final Four under their Hall of Fame coach.
This year, though, even Izzo acknowledged he might’ve bit off more than his unranked team could chew.
“In the summer, I was nervous and scared because I’m saying, `What am I doing?’” Izzo said Monday night after tuning up for tough tests with a 73-55 season-opening win against Northern Arizona. “After spending four months, five months, with my team, I’m now not nervous or scared. I’m anxious and excited.
Izzo is coaching in his second game on an aircraft carrier Friday night, hoping to stay afloat against No. 2 Gonzaga in San Diego. Four days later in Indianapolis, the Spartans will play No. 4 Kentucky in the Champions Classic. Three days later, No. 16 Villanova visits the Breslin Center.
In a four-day span during the week of Thanksgiving in Portland, Oregon, Michigan State will match up with No. 20 Alabama and might face No. 21 Oregon and top-ranked North Carolina in the Phil Knight Invitational.
Since at least 2009, no other team has had a November schedule with a pair of opponents ranked in the top four and two other teams in the poll.
And just for good measure, the Spartans will play on the road against a Notre Dame team that like them is also among teams receiving votes in the AP Top 25.
Here’s a look at other teams who are choosing to be challenged outside of their conference schedule:
A week after playing Michigan State on a ship, in a five-day span Mark Few’s team will have a true road game against No. 12 Texas and and the Wildcats just off campus at Spokane Arena.
The Bulldogs may face No. 7 Duke in Portland at the Phil Knight Legacy tournament. In a rematch of the 2021 NCAA championhip game, they will play Baylor in South Dakota. After getting a chance to catch their breath, they will travel to face the Crimson Tide in Birmingham, Alabama.
The Tar Heels have five turnups before likely playing Villanova in the Phil Knight Invitational, where they could also play Alabama or the Ducks.
Three days after playing three games over four days in Oregon, North Carolina will go to one of the loudest venues in college basketball, Assembly Hall, to face No. 13 Indiana in the first of three scheduled games against Big Ten teams.
In Hubert Davis’ second season, the Tar Heels will match up with Ohio State, which received votes in the AP Top 25, in New York and then host No. 22 Michigan.
Along with the aforementioned games against Gonzaga and the Spartans, John Calipari’s team will travel to London to tip off against the Wolverines and New York to face the Bruins.
In late January on the eve of the NFL’s conference championship games, Kentucky will play Kansas at home in a possible Final Four preview.
The 18th-ranked Cavaliers will not have to wait long to find out how good they are, playing the Bears and then the Bruins or No. 23 Illinois in Las Vegas next week. Virginia also plays the Wolverines on their home court and No. 3 Houston at home.
The 12th-ranked Longhorns host Gonzaga and No. 9 Creighton before having a neutral-site game against the Fighting Illini in New York. In the SEC-Big 12 Challenge, Texas will travel to play on the Volunteers’ court.
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