Michigan State (0-0) Vs. Connecticut (0-0) (5:30 p.m. ET Friday, on ESPN)
Line: MSU -11 (Bovada)
Last Meeting: 2010 Maui Invitational (Connecticut 70-67)
3 Players to Watch:
1) Keith Appling (PG, MSU):Appling is expected to be this teams floor general, last year Draymond Green held that role as a “do everything” power forward. Appling and coach Izzo have said that he needs to be much more vocal on the court this year for the Spartans to be successful. Keith was recently named to the Wooden Award preseason Top 50, and must play to that level against an extremely talented group of guards from UConn. Appling with have his hands full with Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier, though Appling has played against Napier and should be familiar with his game. Appling will be asked to score the ball this year; he must show that he as improved the arc on his 3-ball. If Keith is unable to make his shots the Spartans may leave Germany as losers.
2) Omar Calhoun (SG, UCONN):The true freshman has been earning praise as being one of the best first-year players in the country. According to ESPN, Calhoun will be one of the most impactful freshmen in the nation. Calhoun has a great ability to get to the basket, and we may see another true freshman Gary Harris guard the UConn freshman. Harris’ defense will be put to the test against a scorer like Calhoun, who according to coaches has improved his shot tremendously. If Calhoun and fellow guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright are able to play to their potential this game may come down to the wire.
3) Branden Dawson (SF, MSU):Most people did not believe that Dawson would be able to play for the Spartans early in the year following ACL surgery. Amazingly Dawson was able to come back in time for both of the MSU preseason games, and performed very well. Branden was throwing down monster dunks and rebounding like before the injury. Surely Dawson is not 100% and coach Izzo has mentioned this, but that does not mean he will not be productive. Look for Dawson to play a huge part on Friday; he will be needed to rebound. The loss of Draymond Green leaves a void in the rebounding category that Dawson must fill. If he is unable to do so the Spartans may lose the rebounding battle and possibly the game.
Spartan fans can thank Athletic Director Mark Hollis (again) for this awesome opportunity. Has there been a more creative AD in the last few years? Last year the Spartans started their season on an aircraft carrier, this year Michigan State has gone overseas and will open their season against the University of Connecticut in an Air Base hangar in Germany. This game truly is not about basketball, it is about our troops and coach Tom Izzo takes great pride in such opportunities.
This game will be a battle of the guards, with both teams having tremendous backcourts. The Spartans should be able to take advantage inside with Payne and Nix down low. It will be interesting to see if Michigan State will be able to run like they wish to. Will the Spartans be the “Oregon” of college basketball this season?
With UConn facing a post-season ban, this will be their “Final Four” and the Spartans must be prepared. The Connecticut guards are extremely talented, maybe the best guard trio the Spartans will face. If Michigan State can take advantage down low as well as win the rebounding battle they should come back to America winners. Leave work early, stream it live from your computer at work, do what you have to do to watch this game. It will be a good one.
My pick: Michigan State 73, Connecticut 60