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Huge early season test awaits Bulldogs

It wasn’t the type of proposal that Mark Few could look at and say, ‘Geez, thanks, but no thanks.’

And that’s one of the reasons why Gonzaga, with perhaps its most inexperienced team, will tangle with No. 2 Michigan State on Tuesday in the Breslin Center, one of college basketball’s toughest venues. The Spartans return three starters and 12 letter-winners from last year’s squad, which lost to North Carolina in the national championship game. UNC beat Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 on its title march.

It’s one of the two marquee games on ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon (24-hour hoops bonanza, 12 straight games): GU-Michigan State at 5 Pacific, followed by Memphis-No. 1 Kansas. Michigan State will visit the Kennel in two years.

Read on for more on the game and links at the bottom.

 

“It’s tough to put a young club into this game this early,” Few said, “but that’s the dilemma of scheduling, that’s how complex scheduling is. You get a storied program returning (the game) on your home floor, it’s going to be a featured game on ESPN, it’s tough to pass up. It’s definitely not what a young team needs right now, that’s going to be the hard part about it. We just need to go back there, compete and get after them and look at this as an opportunity.”

(John Blanchette will look at how the MSU game fits in GU’s scheduling approach in a Tuesday column).

Meanwhile, on the court, the Spartans have been to the Final Four five times in the last 11 seasons, winning the title once. They’ve battled early season injuries, but should have the full complement of players, though a couple might not be 100 percent.

Guard Kalin Lucas was the BigTen player of the year in 2009. Six-foot-8 forwards Raymar Morgan (ankle) and Delvon Roe (concussion) and guard Chris Allen (groin) played limited minutes in Friday’s win over Florida Gulf Coast.

Others to watch are: forwards Draymond Green, Garrick Sherman and Derrick Nix and guards Durrell Summers and Korie Lucious. The 6-8, 280-pound Nix, who had 14 rebounds against Florida Gulf Coast, has lost 50 pounds in the last year.

This is an athletic, deep, hard-nosed club that led the country in rebounding margin a year ago. Michigan State has won 40 straight non-conference games at the Breslin Center.

“Tremendous ball club, tremendous program with their consistency,” Few said. “Hall of Fame (Tom Izzo) on the bench, a team that’s picked to battle for the national championship. To play them on their home floor this early is quite a task, but the way we look at it is it’s quite an opportunity.”

The matchup of GU’s and MSU’s guards should be interesting.

“That trio of guards is phenomenal, their speed and they can really shoot it,” Few said. “It’s Michigan State. They’re always big and physical and play so hard.”

LINKS -- Recaps of MSU's win over Florida Gulf Coast here and here (at the latter, you can link to rosters, stats and MSU's media guide); an in-depth look at the Spartans' roster and coaches here; a look at how MSU stacks up with the bluebloods of college basketball; game-by-game predictions of MSU games (including GU); the Lansing State Journal's MSU page;  and the Detroit Free Press coverage of MSU.




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