East Lansing –— For at least the last few weeks, Michigan State has been itching to get going.
Get going on a basketball season that holds as much anticipation as any in coach Tom Izzo’s 23 years leading the Spartans.
There were three exhibition games, and each opponent presented a different style to help Michigan State prepare for the regular season. But even with a game against Georgia mixed in with two Division II squads, it wasn’t the real thing. The games didn’t count.
That ends tonight as No. 2 Michigan State hosts North Florida at 8 p.m. at the Breslin Center.
“We’ve been anxious since the season ended last year,” sophomore Miles Bridges said. “We’re ready to play. I feel like that’s why we haven’t played as good lately. So, we’re ready to get going. It will be good for us.”
There’s some debate as to how well the Spartans played. The win over Ferris State couldn’t be called impressive, but the Bulldogs are a top-10 team in Division II. The Hillsdale victory had a more one-sided score, but Izzo wasn’t happy. The win over Georgia was easily the highlight of the exhibition season, coming against a team from the SEC that expects to be in the NCAA Tournament this season with one of the top players in the nation in Yante Maten.
Izzo believes his team is better prepared for the different styles it saw in the three exhibitions, but he cautioned North Florida of the Atlantic Sun Conference will bring an even different element.
“When the start of the season comes, it’s always exciting but it’s a little bit, it makes you nervous about where you are and what you are,” Izzo said.
“We’ve had the exhibition games and I think we’ve done a good job in our exhibition games of playing against three completely different kinds of teams. … And yet maybe none of them were a great 3-point shooting team. So, who do we open with? We open with maybe a team that could shoot 25, 28 threes in this game.”
Last season, North Florida took 841 3-pointers, making 295 for a percentage of .351. Sophomore Garrett Sams is the top returning shooter, going 49-for-116 (.421) last season.
“When you watch him on tape, last year they shot 25 threes a game,” Izzo said.
“This year just watching them in scrimmage, they will shoot more. They have at least four guys that can shoot it a lot. Not real big in size, but I think a team that concerns me because anytime a team can shoot 3s it’s concerning to me. That’s how most upsets happen as we remember back and learned from the Middle Tennessee game.”
That game came in the NCAA Tournament two seasons ago, but Michigan State had some issues with an Atlantic Sun team last year, beating Florida Gulf Coast by one at home, the same Florida Gulf Coast team that beat North Florida in the Atlantic Sun title game.
“You definitely want to respect everybody you get a chance to play against at this level,” senior guard Tum Tum Nairn said.
“From last year we learned that a lot and all my years being here we’ve learned that. You respect your opponent. I think we do a pretty good job of that.”
North Florida at No. 2 Michigan State
Tip-off: Friday, 8 p.m., Breslin Center, East Lansing
TV/radio: BTN/WJR 760
Records: First game for both teams
Outlook: Michigan State opens the regular season with only its second meeting against North Florida. The Spartans head to Chicago next week to take on No. 1 Duke in the Champions Classic on Tuesday. … Sophomore forward Wajid Aminu averaged 9.1 points and 6.5 rebounds last year.