Michigan State basketball to face Gonzaga on aircraft carrier in Armed Forces Classic

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Michigan State basketball is heading back to the high seas.

OK, not exactly the high seas, but the Spartans have agreed to play Gonzaga on Nov. 11 — Veterans Day — on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln off the coast of San Diego, as part of the revived Armed Forces Classic.

Michigan State met North Carolina in the Carrier Classic in 2011 aboard the USS Carl Vinson.

It will be the second time the Spartans have played aboard an aircraft carrier after taking on North Carolina on Veterans Day in 2011 as part of the Carrier Classic aboard the USS Carl Vinson, also played off the coast of San Diego.

“I know our players, coaches and staff, and all of Michigan State Athletics are very excited about the opportunity to play a tremendous program like Gonzaga on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln while honoring all of those who serve in our military,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said in a statement. “This game is big for our program, for Michigan State University and for the Big Ten Conference. This opportunity to play on an aircraft carrier in front of the men and women who willingly put their lives on the line will be an experience that is going to mean something to the young men who will play in the game for a long, long time.

“I said it the time in 2011 when we played North Carolina on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson — one of the most humbling experiences of my career, and I’ll say it again, we’re going to play one of the top teams in the country and we’re going to be hosted by the No. 1 team in the world.”

Michigan State’s matchup with North Carolina, which was attended by President Barack Obama, went off without a hitch. However, several similar games were canceled the next year because of condensation on the court.

Florida and Georgetown’s game off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, aboard the USS Bataan was canceled while Ohio State vs. Marquette on the USS Yorktown outside Charleston, South Carolina, was also called off. A matchup between Syracuse and San Diego State aboard the USS Midway in San Diego was postponed two days.

It signaled the end of the aircraft carrier games — until now, though this game becomes part of the Armed Forces Classic, an event Michigan State took part in when it played UConn at Ramstein Airforce Base in Germany in 2012.

The Gonzaga matchup likely will tip off the season for Michigan State and is yet another marquee game in a typically busy nonconference schedule.

After taking on the Bulldogs, Michigan State will head to Indianapolis to face Kentucky in the Champions Classic on Nov. 15. Three days later, the Spartans will host Villanova as part of the Gavitt Games. Michigan State then travels to Portland, Oregon, for the PK85, a tournament honoring Nike founder Phil Knight that features the likes of North Carolina, Villanova, UConn, Duke, Gonzaga and Purdue. That even runs from Nov. 24-27 and will be followed by the Spartans heading to Notre Dame on Nov. 30 to face the Fighting Irish in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Gonzaga is likely to be ranked among the top teams in the nation heading into the season, while Michigan State is likely to be ranked, as well. The Spartans are 4-1 against the Bulldogs, the last meeting a Michigan State victory in Spokane, Washington, in 2011 when Draymond Green scored 34 points.

“We are extremely honored to be a part of the Armed Forces Classic,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “This is a special opportunity for our program to support those who fight for our country in our own small way. We’re excited to face an incredible program in Michigan State and a great colleague in Coach Izzo. I’m sure this will be a great memory for all of us.”


Twitter: @mattcharboneau