Michigan State and Tom Izzo have done a good job at keeping things fun and challenging with non-conference match-ups year after year. That will be no different this upcoming season.
It was announced earlier this week that Michigan State will travel to Hinkle Fieldhouse to play Butler on Nov. 17 as part of the Gavitt Games. For most college basketball fans (and myself), Hinkle Fieldhouse is a bucket list venue so I’m very excited about this match-up and hope to even travel down to Indianapolis for the game.
This announcement got me thinking — and also Michigan State Associate Athletic Director Kevin Pauga — of who else should the Spartans schedule at some point to cross off some of those other bucket list venues or opponents. In no particular order, here’s my list of 10 bucket list non-conference match-ups and venues I’d love for Michigan State to schedule at some point in the future:
Kansas (Allen Fieldhouse)
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Michigan State has regularly played Kansas through the annual Champions Classic event and in the NCAA Tournament, but has only traveled to Allen Fieldhouse twice in program history. The last visit to Lawrence, Kan. for the Spartans was in 2003 so why not schedule a home-and-home with the Jayhawks for sometime soon.
Xavier (Cintas Center)
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Each year I keep waiting to hear Michigan State will play Xavier in the Gavitt Games but so far no luck. The Musketeers have been a consistently solid program for years now, and Cincinnati is a fun city and a relatively short drive away from East Lansing, Mich. making for a nice road trip for fans.
UCLA (Pauley Pavilion)
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Pauley Pavilion is one of the most historic venues in college basketball, despite UCLA not having much success in recent years -- outside of this year's surprising NCAA Tournament run. Like with Kansas, Michigan State has played the Bruins numerous times at neutral site locations but hasn't played at UCLA since 2003 so getting a true road match-up with the Bruins scheduled would be fun.
Indiana State (at Jenison Fieldhouse)
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This is more of a unique match-up I'd like to see. This would be a rematch of the iconic Magic Johnson-Larry Bird 1979 national championship game between the Spartans and Sycamores, and I'd love to see the game played at Jenison Fieldhouse -- the home arena of Michigan State in 1979 -- to make it even more of a fun match-up.
Kentucky (Rupp Arena)
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Michigan State and Kentucky have been two of the most consistent basketball power programs in the last 20-plus years so why not schedule a home-and-home? Rupp Arena is one of the largest arenas in college basketball with a capacity of nearly 24,000 so this would be not only a great match-up but an electric atmosphere and experience.
Vanderbilt (Memorial Gymnasium)
Vanderbilt isn't necessarily a powerhouse program but Memorial Gynasium is one of the more unique venues in the country and that's why the Commodores are on this list. Visiting Nashville would also make this a fun roadtrip for fans.
Villanova (Finneran Pavilion)
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Tom Izzo hinted at potentially playing Villanova this upcoming season in an interview earlier this offseason so hopefully this bucket list game comes to fruition. The Wildcats are consistently a top 10 program under Jay Wright so it's surprising to see these two teams haven't played in nearly 20 years. A home-and-home series with the Wildcats would be a lot of fun and is definitely something I'm hoping to see scheduled in the next few years.
Michigan-based mid-major road game
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Michigan State's last in-state road game was in 2011 at Eastern Michigan, but outside of that the Spartans have played only six true road games against Michigan-based schools in the last 40 years. Five of those were against Detroit Mercy so it would be great to see the Spartans play at Central Michigan, Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan in the next few years.
Gonzaga (McCarthey Athletic Center)
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Gonzaga is a mid-major that is now in the blue blood conversation so it's only fitting that Michigan State get a home-and-home scheduled with the Zags. The Spartans and Bulldogs most recently played in 2011 out in Spokane, Wash. so let's hope we can get another match-up scheduled soon.
USC (Athens, Greece)
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I saved my most outlandish match-up for last with this one stemming from comments made by former Michigan State Athletic Director Mark Hollis in 2011. Hollis said nearly 10 years ago that he wanted to schedule a non-conference game with USC in Athens, Greece. This idea was in relation to the two schools' team names having ties to Greece, and would be an extremely fun trip for anyone who could travel to the game. This, of course, seems very unlikely with Hollis no longer part of the athletic department but I suppose you never know.
Bonus: Northern Michigan (Superior Dome)
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I have seen numerous fans mention this fun exhibition match-up so Izzo could return to the Upper Peninsula to coach his Spartans. Northern Michigan -- located in Marquette, Mich. -- plays football at the Superior Dome so why not throw a basketball court on the field and have the Wildcats and Spartans battle it out? With Izzo being from nearby Iron Mountain, Mich., this would be a great game to get scheduled before the legendary coach retires.