Detroit — Tom Izzo can play just about any college basketball team he wants.
But it's become quite clear, he's never going to leave Greg Kampe hanging.
The long series between Michigan State and Oakland, which dates back 17 meetings and to 1998, appeared in pretty serious jeopardy recently, when the contract expired, and Michigan State was having a devil of a time finding openings with the Big Ten moving to a 20-game conference schedule.
No matter. Izzo made it work. He always was going to make it work, for Oakland and his good buddy, Kampe. The two have combined to be head coaches at their respective schools for 60 years, and the bond and respect run deep among the 64-yera
"He plays the bluebloods, but he also sees how important playing Oakland is," Kampe said Friday afternoon, following a pep rally a stone's throw from Campus Martius, in advance of Saturday's noon meeting at Little Caesars Arena.
"He's a man of his word, and he kept this series going."
This summer, after some touch-and-go talks (attributed, in part, to the fact both schools have new athletic directors since the old deal commenced), the schools signed a six-year extension that will feature three games at a netural site — Little Caesars Arena, replacing The Palace — and three games at Breslin Center in East Lansing.
They will play at LCA on Saturday, then again in 2021 and 2023, and will play at Breslin in 2020, 2022 and 2024.
This will be the teams' second meeting at LCA. On Dec. 16, 2017, they were the nightcap of a doubleheader, with Detroit Mercy and Michigan the opener. The crowd for Detroit Mercy-Michigan was quite small; the crowd for Michigan State-Oakland was packed, and electric.
Those were the first two college basketball games at LCA. Michigan State, then ranked No. 2, beat Oakland, 86-73.
Michigan State won last year, 99-69, at Breslin Center in what wasn't one of Kampe's banner years. This isn't expected to be one of his greats, either, which is why when asked, jokingly which one of the two ultra-intense coaches is most likely to have an ulcer Saturday afternoon, he insisted it was Izzo — because it'd be a surprise to most if Oakland (5-5) is hanging tight with Michigan State (6-3) in this one.
Michigan State is 17-0 in the series, though there have been some good games, most notably then-No. 1 Michigan State's OT win at The Palace in 2015.
Michigan State, under Izzo, has played the state's other four Division I mid-majors a combined 13 times. He's played Eastern Michigan six times, with a seventh coming up Dec. 21; Western Michigan once (in 1998), with a second combing up Dec. 29; Central Michigan twice, and not since 1997; and Detroit Mercy four times, and not since 2001.
"They're the gold standard. It's great for Oakland," Kampe said, before taking his team to practice at the Pistons' new practice facility in New Center. "It's a fantastic thing.
"It's what college basketball, to me, is supposed to be about."