Michigan State point guards Cassius Winston and Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn Jr. talk about facing No. 1 Duke. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
East Lansing — Michigan State’s players say it over and over — they come play for the Spartans for the chance to play in the biggest games.
They’ll do exactly that at 7 p.m. Tuesday night during the Champions Classic at the United Center in Chicago when No. 2 Michigan State takes on No. 1 Duke. It’s the second time the Spartans have been part of a 1 vs. 2 matchup in the event — it beat No. 1 Kentucky in 2013. The doubleheader also features No. 4 Kansas vs. No. 5 Kentucky.
“I’m still proud to be part of maybe the greatest event in college basketball other than the Final Four,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said on Monday. “As we’ve said, all eyes will be in Chicago (Tuesday) and it is one of the best nights of college basketball.”
All four teams playing are in the top five of the Associated Press rankings, but according to the coaches poll, it’s a showdown of 1 vs. 2 and 3 vs. 4.
Either way, it’s a big night for college hoops. That goes especially for Michigan State as Izzo tries to improve on his 1-10 record against Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski.
Senior guard Tum Tum Nairn will play in his fourth Champions Classic, and this will be the third time he’s had a chance to face Duke. He admits that’s big, but he’s not letting the Spartans appear to take a back seat.
“Playing against a team like Duke is a special opportunity,” Nairn said. “But it just shows that it’s a special opportunity to be playing at Michigan State, as well. Being able to play a team like Duke, coming here is what gives you the opportunity to play against a team like that, and I think that’s what makes our program special.
“At Michigan State, that’s why we come here, to be able to play anybody, anywhere at any time and that’s what Coach Izzo has provided for the players. It’s definitely special to be playing basketball at Michigan State.”
Michigan State (1-0) has a 3-3 mark in the Classic, matching that of Duke. Kentucky is 4-2 while Kansas is 2-4.