East Lansing — It’s been more than 40 years since Michigan State hosted Notre Dame in basketball, so might as well make it a big one.
A top-five matchup qualifies as big, and that’s exactly what’s on tap as No. 3 Michigan State hosts No. 5 Notre Dame in at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Breslin Center as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the first top-five matchup in East Lansing since Jan. 7, 2014, when the fifth-ranked Spartans beat third-ranked Ohio State.
“It’s special, special to be able to play against a great team like that and at home,” senior guard Lourawls Nairn Jr. said. “It gives us a chance to be in front of our fans because we’re gonna need them for this win. It gives us a chance to rally together with everybody because this is gonna be a tough team.
“When you’re at home and the Izzone is rocking and the whole place is rocking, there is no better feeling than that. That’s the difference from a neutral site and being at home, we have everybody in.”
Everyone will be in, for sure, especially considering it’s the first time Notre Dame will play in East Lansing since Feb. 4, 1974 — a 91-89 Notre Dame victory. After meeting again the next year, the teams stopped playing regularly, the next matchup coming in the 1979 NCAA Tournament when Michigan State beat Notre Dame on its way to a national championship.
They didn’t play again until 2014 when Michigan State traveled to South Bend to play Notre Dame in the Challenge and lost 79-78 in overtime. This is the return trip, and it just happens to come with plenty of national cachet.
“It’s great to be challenged, no question,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “We have a veteran group that wants to play big games and it doesn’t get much bigger than this against a great opponent.
“It’s another let it rip, nothing to lose night.”
Both teams have been letting it rip so far this season. While Michigan State (5-1) is coming off its championship-game victory over North Carolina at the PK80 Invitational over the weekend, Notre Dame (6-0) is fresh off beating Wichita State to capture the Maui Invitational.
Both teams are rolling and both are looking forward to showing they belong among the top five teams in the nation.
“I am expecting a great atmosphere at Breslin because I know how much it means to our fans,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Having Notre Dame in football, this could be really great. Notre Dame is the third team that we are going to have played in the top 10. … I think it speaks volumes for our schedule.”
Michigan State has already played No. 1 Duke in the Champions Classic and North Carolina was ranked No. 9 last week. At No. 5, Notre Dame represents the rare nonconference home game against a top opponent.
Two years ago, Louisville played at the Breslin Center as the No. 24 team and Florida came to town during one of its down years. The last marquee team to come to town before that was North Carolina in 2013. The Tar Heels were unranked then but beat No. 1 Michigan State.
Those sort of campus games are what Izzo relishes.
“Nothing better than going in an opponent’s arena and trying to see how good you are on the road,” Izzo said. “You really learn a lot about your players and so I miss that a little bit the way we’ve gone to these neutral games all over. But it is what it is and thank god we’ve got a good game here and we’ll take it and our fans will take it.”
What the fans will get is a veteran Notre Dame team against the youthful Spartans.
The Fighting Irish are led by seniors Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell. Colson is averaging 20 points and 10.5 rebounds a game while Farrell is scoring 17.5 points a game and is handing out 4.3 assists and has made a team-best 18 3-pointers.
Michigan State freshman Jaren Jackson Jr., who has 11 blocks through six games, will likely draw the responsibility of guarding Colson.
“I like playing against good competition all the time,” Jackson said. “It's fun because you get to see where you're at as well. I'll never try to hide from a challenge, and that's what coach Izzo likes to do, too.”
Michigan State hopes forward Miles Bridges is 100 percent after missing one game with a sprained ankle and expects forward Kenny Goins back after he missed four games with a knee injury. Junior guard Matt McQuaid should also be OK as he works through a foot problem.
Even with those limitations, the Spartans are looking forward to potentially adding another high-profile victory.
“It’s huge and the atmosphere I know is gonna be crazy,” sophomore guard Cassius Winston said. “They’re a good team coming in here and a good team to have on our resume. They’re really patient, know how to move the basketball and how to get players in their spots. So, we’ll need to be focused on both ends of the floor.”
No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 3 Michigan State
Tip-off: 7 Thursday, Breslin Center, East Lansing
TV/radio: ESPN/WJR 760
Records: Notre Dame 6-0, Michigan State 5-1
Outlook: Notre Dame is coming off a 67-66 win over Wichita State in the Maui Invitational championship game. … This is the third Michigan State home game to feature two teams ranked in the Associated Press top five. … Michigan State is 7-10 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. … Notre Dame ranks No. 10 nationally in field-goal percentage (52.8) and No. 16 in 3-point field-goal percentage (43.8).