This is the latest installment of a weekly series looking at the college-basketball scene in Michigan.
Tom Izzo loves playing Oakland, and Greg Kampe loves playing Michigan State.
But the mutual admiration society might not be enough to save what’s become one of the most intriguing basketball series in the state. Michigan State and Oakland have played every year but one since 2005, but scheduling hurdles are threatening to bring that run to an end.
The teams are only under contract for one more meeting, in 2018, at Breslin Center. While there are ongoing discussions about extending the series, both Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis and Oakland athletic director Jeff Konya have confirmed, nothing is imminent.
And here’s why: Michigan State is quickly running out of room on its schedule. Starting next season, the Big Ten is going to 20 conference games. Michigan State also has lengthy commitments to play a game a season in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the Champions Classic and, in four of the next five years, the Gavitt Tipoff Games — essentially a Big Ten/Big East Challenge.
And that doesn’t include any tournament games Michigan State typically plays around the holidays.
NCAA rules allow teams to schedule 29 regular-season games if there’s no tournament, or 27 plus a tournament that can include no more than four games. In other words, if Michigan State plays in a tournament, that leaves only four open dates; if it doesn’t play in a tournament, that leaves six.
Squeezing Oakland into that small window will be tricky, at least under the terms of the current contract — which has the teams playing in Breslin Center one year, then at a neutral site (previously The Palace; last month at Little Caesars Arena) the next year, and so on.
With so few open dates, such an arrangement probably can’t continue, as Michigan State will want as many of those open dates, if not all of them, at home. Whether Oakland would accept a new deal that has all the games in East Lansing — as were all six meetings from 1999 to 2007 — from remains to be seen, but that might be the only way Michigan State does it, even if Hollis is noncommittal on which way this will all shake out.
“The series has been a great experience for both Oakland and Michigan State,” Hollis said. “We have ongoing conversations for games beyond the one at Breslin in 2018.
“We are working through new variables associated with a 20-game (Big Ten) schedule, Champions Classic, Gavitt Games and the ACC Challenge.”
That said, Hollis added, “There is value in having the series continue.”
The series, which dates to 2000, has been a riveting one, even if it’s been lopsided, with the Spartans winning all 16 meetings. But the Golden Grizzlies have come close to pulling the upset several times, especially in recent years — losing to No. 1-ranked MSU in overtime at The Palace in 2015, and in a thriller to No. 2-ranked MSU at Little Caesars Arena last month.
The crowds for both those games were at capacity and extremely loud and raucous. That’s why the neutral-site game has such value, especially for Olympia Entertainment, which wants to continue the college-basketball showcase for years to come, president and CEO Tom Wilson insisted recently.
But without Michigan State and Oakland, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Olympia deems the event worth it.
It’s out of their hands, though, just as it’s out of Oakland’s — while Michigan State’s hands just might be tied.
Things just aren’t getting any better for Bacari Alexander and Detroit Mercy, which now has lost nine games in a row — the second nine-game skid in two years under Alexander.
Alexander’s predecessor, Ray McCallum Sr., never had a nine-game losing streak in his eight seasons before he was fired two years ago. His longest was eight, seven to end his first season, 2008-09, and one to start his second season. He also had some six-game losing streaks.
The longest losing streak in Detroit Mercy history is 15, in 1987-88.
And these Titans very well could challenge that futility record, which few could’ve seen coming for a team picked to finish in the upper tier of the Horizon League. The roster has plenty of talent (Corey Allen, Kam Chatman, Jaleel Hogan, though he’s still not in game shape after being ineligible much of the summer), but nothing’s really clicking with league play now under way.
Detroit Mercy has games against Wright State (10-5, 2-0 Horizon, entering Tuesday) and Northern Kentucky (9-5, 2-0) coming up, so there’s a good bet the skid at least hits 11. The three games after that, Cleveland State (3-11, 0-1), Youngstown State (3-11, 1-0) and IUPUI (3-10, 0-2), are winnable, before the home game against rival Oakland on Jan. 20.
Athletic director Robert Vowels has said he expected nothing less than a .500 season this year after an 8-23 season in 2016-17. And to achieve that, the Titans (4-11, 0-2) would have to go at least 12-4 in its final 16 regular-season games.
Let’s face it, that’s a pipe dream, given the current state of the team. So don’t be surprised if administration reassess its commitment to Alexander, who earlier this season served a seven-game suspension after a reported verbal altercation with a player. He still hasn’t coached a victory this season.
This and that
■ There was some talk that the Oakland men (9-6, 1-1) might run the table in a down Horizon League, but forget that now. On the back end of its two-game swing in Wisconsin, the Golden Grizzlies were stunned by Green Bay, 80-79, thanks to its scorching hot shooting from 3-point range. Oakland dug an early hole behind 1-for-14 shooting from 3-point range in the first half.
Oakland coach Greg Kampe said “we were tired-legged,” and said his injury-depleted team — which is forcing him to play his stars way more minutes than he wants — desperately needs to get guard James Beck (right leg, stress fractures) and big man Brad Brechting (toe surgery) back on the court. Beck could return for the Detroit Mercy game; Brechting has a check-up appointment at the end of the week.
■ The big senior season continues for Michigan guard Katelynn Flaherty, who in an 89-69 win over Penn State last week made 10 3-pointers (of 17 attempted) — a school record. She is averaging 22.8 points a game, fifth in the nation.
Sticking with Michigan women’s basketball, coach Kim Barnes Arico is tied with Sue Guevara for most wins in program history, with 123. Barnes Arico can take over sole possession of the top spot Thursday at Wisconsin.
■ Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan men were set to start MAC play Tuesday night. It should be fascinating to see how that conference plays out; it’s balanced, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if any of the teams from Michigan wins in the MAC West.
■ Here’s at least one happy nugget for a Detroit Mercy women’s team that’s 0-13 — senior guard Nicole Urbanick has surpassed 1,000 points for her career, during the 75-50 loss to Cleveland State.
■ Men’s RPI rankings: Michigan State 27, Michigan 49, Oakland 86, CMU 119, EMU 144, WMU 192, Detroit Mercy 261.
■ Men’s KenPom rankings: Michigan State 2, Michigan 33, Oakland 106, EMU 155, WMU 177, CMU 183, Detroit Mercy 299.
■ Men’s Sagarin rankings: Michigan State 1, Michigan 25, Oakland 111, EMU 159, CMU 170, WMU 174, Detroit Mercy 288.
State power rankings
1. Michigan State, 14-1 (last week: 1)
2. Michigan, 12-3 (2)
3. Oakland, 9-6 (3)
4. Western Michigan, 8-5 (5)
5. Central Michigan, 11-2 (4)
6. Eastern Michigan, 9-4 (6)
7. Detroit Mercy, 4-11 (7)
1. Michigan, 12-3 (1)
2. Michigan State, 11-4 (2)
3. Central Michigan, 9-3 (3)
4. Oakland, 8-5 (4)
5. Western Michigan, 8-5 (5)
6. Eastern Michigan, 4-7 (6)
7. Detroit Mercy, 0-13 (7)
Player of the week
■ Reyna Frost, Central Michigan, Jr., F: The Chippewas (9-3, 1-0 MAC) won their Mid-American Conference opener against Ball State, 69-65, behind a monster game from Frost, who notched her sixth double-double of the season — with 23 points and 19 rebounds. As a team, CMU had 55 rebounds. Frost is averaging 13.5 rebounds a game, up from last year’s impressive average of 11.3.
Freshman of the week
■ Jordan Poole, Michigan, G: Honestly, not a whole lot of candidates to choose from here. Poole gets the nod for his 10-point effort in the 76-51 victory over Jacksonville; that’s five double-digit scoring efforts this season.
Stat of the week
■ In its 108-52 victory over Savannah State, the Michigan State men had 35 assists — on 44 made field goals. That assist mark is tied for second-highest in program history. Ten Spartans had at least one, with Cassius Winston leading the way with 13.
Top games of the week
■ Tuesday: Men, Michigan at Iowa, 7
■ Friday: Men, Northern Kentucky at Oakland, 9
■Sunday: Men, Michigan State at Ohio State, 4:30
■ Sunday: Women, Ohio State at Michigan, noon
■ Sunday: Women, Michigan State at Minnesota, 4 p.m.