Izzo, Kampe share mutual respect for MSU-Oakland series

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — There’s a whole lot of respect between Tom Izzo and Greg Kampe, who sat side by side in the rain the other day at the Little Caesars Arena construction site, Kampe holding the umbrella for both of them as sprinkling rain came down.

The Dec. 16 game at LCA — part of a doubleheader, that includes Michigan and Detroit Mercy — will be the 16th meeting, and the 12th in 13 years, between Michigan State and Oakland, all in the Izzo era.

Michigan State is 15-0 in the series.

“We haven’t lost to them,” Izzo said, before emphatically adding, “Yet!”

There’s been some close calls over the years, especially recently, and especially in 2015 at The Palace, where then-No. 1 Michigan State held off Oakland, 99-93, in overtime.

Michigan State won by four points in 2013, one point in 2010 and four points in 2007.

The annual game, which these days is alternated between being played on a neutral court and being played in East Lansing, means a whole lot to Kampe, who can use it as a recruiting tool.

Winning one of these years would mean even more.

“You know, we’ve played a lot of times and we’ve come probably as close as you could come. A couple years ago, they were No. 1 in the country,” Kampe said of the game at The Palace, which would’ve gone the Golden Grizzlies way if a Kay Felder layup had rolled around the rim and then dropped in, rather than rimming out. “That would’ve been unbelievable for us because they were No. 1 and it was Michigan State, but I don’t lay awake at night worrying about trying to beat Michigan State.

“I’m just glad they play us. It’s a great game for us. It really helps us in recruiting that we play then every year.”

Oakland would like to play Michigan every year, too, but Michigan nixed the series after the 2011 game.

Kampe said things like the Horizon League and the Horizon League tournament — in which the Golden Grizzlies have been upset in their first game each of the last two years, despite being seeded No. 1 and 2 — is what keeps him up at night.

Getting back to the NCAA Tournament, that’s the goal.

But beating Michigan State would be huge for a program that’s still, in the grand scheme of things, relatively new to the Division I game.

“If fortunately some day we do beat them,” said Kampe, “then I will shake his hand and thank him for playing us.”

The December game, on paper, could be a good one.

Oakland is coming off a 25-9 season in which it posted the second-most wins in program history and won a National Invitation Tournament game for the first time. Oakland loses just the one senior, Sherron Dorsey-Walker, and adds Illinois transfer Kendrick Nunn, plus a stud recruit in Grand Rapids Christian’s James Beck.

Michigan State, meanwhile, could be ranked in the top five at the time, given its returning its entire star freshman class from this past season, including Miles Bridges, plus bringing in a stacked class of its own.

Michigan State could even be ranked No. 1 when the teams play. Earlier in the season, Oakland plays at Kansas.

“I’d like Michigan State to be No. 1 in the country when we play then; we play Kansas a little bit earlier and I hope they’re ranked No. 1 and then somebody beats them, then State moves into No. 1 so we could play two No. 1 teams,” Kampe said. “When you play No. 1, it’s a lot of fun.

“I want Michigan State to win every game except the game they play against us.”

Oakland’s schedule also will include a trip to Syracuse.

Michigan State’s, meanwhile, figures to be stacked again, with a game against Duke, the Nike tournament out in Oregon, and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge game.

“I got a 12-day stretch that’s off the charts,” said Izzo, noting that the ACC/Big Ten Challenge game is in early December, and, new this year, followed by two early Big Ten games. “Then you add Oakland in there. Some people will say that’s not a BCS school. For me, it’s worse than some BCS schools. Greg does such a great job and we’ve had wars every year.”

Izzo also said this week he’d be open to starting discussions with Detroit Mercy coach Bacari Alexander about scheduling the Titans down the road. Michigan State and Detroit Mercy haven’t played since 2001.