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'Exciting time': LCA to host UM, MSU hoops doubleheader

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo gives his remarks during Tuesday's official announcement.

Detroit – In what's believed to be a first, Michigan State, Michigan, Oakland and Detroit Mercy will soon play basketball games in one place on the same day.

The four teams will participate in a Dec. 16 doubleheader at Little Caesars Arena, the schools and Olympia Entertainment announced Tuesday.

Michigan and Detroit Mercy will play the first game, and Michigan State and Oakland the second game. Game times for the Saturday contests will be announced at a later date  television pending  but noon and 2 p.m. are the likely slots, before the Lions-Bears game set for 4:30 p.m. across town at Ford Field.

Tickets will go on sale within 30 days; prices aren't yet known.

"Just seeing what's happening here in downtown Detroit is wonderful for the city, wonderful for the state," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "We definitely want to be a part of that."

News of the doubleheader headlined a day of big announcements regarding Little Caesars Arena and The District Detroit, with Paul McCartney signing on for a concert at the arena for October, and with uber-popular Grand Rapids brewery Founders unveiling plans to open a second location in the district.

Coaches for all four teams attended Tuesday's announcement, set smack dab in the middle of a construction site. The festivities were interrupted briefly by some light rain.

Not that anything could dampen the spirits.

"Our program," said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, "is proud to be a part of it."

The doubleheader will be the first college basketball event at the new, $650-million home of the Red Wings and the Pistons.

As noted by Tom Wilson, Olympia president and CEO, the arena opens in 129 days.

The Michigan-Detroit Mercy opener is fitting, given the schools played the first game at Joe Louis Arena, an 85-72 Michigan win on Dec. 12, 1979. It will be the schools' first meeting since 2014, and the first since Bacari Alexander, Beilein's former assistant, took over as head coach at Detroit Mercy.

For Michigan State and Oakland, this will be their 15th meeting, all in the Izzo-Greg Kampe eras. MSU is 14-0. This year's game was contracted for a neutral court, and the schools went shopping for another location once it became evident The Palace of Auburn Hills, which lost the Pistons, might no longer be an option.

The four-team doubleheader is a one-year deal, at least for now.

"That would certainly be our hope that we could do this again and again and again," Wilson said.

Discussions for the event  which has yet to be named, but you can bet it'll have a snazzy title before too long, given Olympia's marketing chops  began more than a year ago, and, as Beilein quipped, might have set a record for the number of conference calls it took to get things finalized.

Getting two teams to settle one date is tricky enough. Doubling that can be extremely difficult, especially when factoring in other scheduled games, exams, etc. The schools originally were working with three dates  Dec. 15, 16 and 17; a Friday, Saturday and Sunday  and settled on Dec. 16. That was before the Lions' schedule was released last week, and included a surprising home game that Saturday.

"It's going to be an unbelievably chaotic day down here," Kampe said.

Little Caesars Arena was planned and designed as a hockey arena first, but its basketball stature already is growing immensely.

Aside from the Pistons' pending move back downtown and the marquee collegehoops doubleheader, Little Caesars Arena also will host the Horizon League men's and women's tournaments in 2018 and likely years beyond that, and men's NCAA Tournament first- and second-round games will be held at the arena in 2018 and 2021.

Kampe and Izzo, set to tour the arena in hard hats and goggles, already are convinced it'll be among the elite basketball venues in the country.

"This is an exciting time in our city," Alexander said. "We couldn't be more excited to have such an exciting event in the city proper."

Twitter: @tonypaul1984