Each season Michigan State sets its sights on playing for a national title. It might have a little more motivation to try this time.
With college basketball’s premier event being held a short trip from the East Lansing campus, the No. 6 Spartans begin their quest towards that goal against visiting Idaho on Sunday.
Michigan State hasn’t reached the national semifinals since 2005, but with another stellar roster full of talent and the game’s final weekend being played 90 minutes away at Detroit’s Ford Field, the Spartans certainly have something to focus on.
“This gives you a chance to have a real big party,” said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who has guided the Spartans to four national semifinal appearances this decade. “I don’t want our guys thinking about the Final Four, but I hope every one of them goes to sleep every night and dreams about it.
“Yeah, I dream about it. But I’ve been through enough that I understand how good you have to be and how lucky you have to be.”
Izzo knows this season’s club has a chance to be better than good. Though guard Drew Neitzel has graduated, the Spartans return four of their five top scorers from last season’s 27-9 team that reached the round of 16 for the seventh time in 11 years.
Six-foot-8 junior forward Raymar Morgan is back after averaging a team-best 14.0 points with 6.1 rebounds per game as a sophomore.
Point guard Kalin Lucas (10.3 ppg and 3.8 assists last season) and forward Goran Suton (9.1 ppg, 8.2 rpg) will start, while Travis Walton, Durrell Summers, Chris Allen, Marquise Gray and freshman Delvon Roe are expected to contribute for a team that is likely to contend with No. 11 Purdue and No. 25 Wisconsin for the Big Ten title.
“Our first goal is to win the Big Ten,” said Morgan, who will help try to lead the Spartans to their first league title since 2000-01. “Then, our goal is to get to the Final Four.”
Michigan State, which hasn’t lost a home opener since the 1976-77 season, will face Idaho for the first time while trying to run its non-conference home winning streak to 35 games. Only Duke (61) and Sam Houston State (44) have longer active streaks.
Idaho opened its season with a 91-69 victory over Evergreen State on Friday. Mac Hopson had 19 points while Kashif Watson added 17 and six rebounds as the Vandals shot 46.7 percent and forced 19 turnovers against the NAIA school.
“We would play hard for half a possession and then break down and give them an easy shot,” first-year Vandals coach Don Verlin told the school’s official Web site. “We have to be a lot more solid on the defensive end if we are going to be the basketball team we want to be.”
Hopson, a transfer from Washington State, leads the Vandals, who were picked to finish last in the Western Athletic Conference’s preseason coaches poll after going 8-21 overall last season.
Idaho is 0-15 versus Top 25 opponents since the start of the 1999-2000 season.