The Citadel plays South Carolina in hoops for the 100th time

First, I want to comment on The Citadel’s game against Michigan State.  I don’t believe in moral victories, but I do believe in moral non-embarrassments, and the Bulldogs did well in that category.  I am used to watching The Citadel get annihilated when facing a quality opponent , especially on those rare occasions when the game is on TV.  Watching the Bulldogs play a reasonably competitive game against a ranked team was somewhat disorienting.

Speaking of TV, the game against MSU was one of just three contests The Citadel will play this season that will be televised.  (The second of the three will come Saturday against the Gamecocks.)  That needs to change.  With all the games that are televised these days, I think it is critical that The Citadel gets its fair share of exposure.  Three games per season is not going to cut it.  Recruits, even those who are considering a military school, want to play TV games.  I think it would also foster more alumni interest in the program.  Plus, Vegas would get more action on our games.  Okay, maybe that last one isn’t as big a deal.

I would suggest to Ed Conroy (not that he needs my suggestions) that he do everything he can to get OOC games that will be on TV.  John Chaney did something like this years ago at Temple.  The Citadel is hindered a bit in its ability to schedule out of conference, though, by the Southern Conference’s 20-game league schedule, which is ludicrous for a league like the SoCon (16 would be a better number of conference games).

Conroy’s already off to a decent start by playing Big 10 teams.  What I like about playing the Big 10 schools is that if you play one, you will either play a game on national television (on the Big Ten Network) or play a Big 10 school at home (like Iowa earlier this season).  I think 2-for-1s (and even 3-for-1s in some situations) are well worth it if the games on the road are televised.

From what I gather, the SEC’s new mega-deal with ESPN is going to result in a huge increase in TV games for that league (including a lot of ESPNU matchups).  Hey, if playing Mississippi State or Georgia results in another TV game, I say start up the bus and tell the driver to head to Starkville or Athens.

Incidentally, have you ever noticed that a lot of SEC basketball arenas look kind of dark on TV?  It’s a strange phenomenon.  I guess the good lighting is reserved for the football practice fields.  Speaking of dimly lit buildings, that brings us to Saturday’s game against the Gamecocks…

Tomorrow the Gamecocks and Bulldogs will meet in basketball for the 100th time.  A scintillating series, it is not.  South Carolina has won 76 of the previous 99, but the greatest of the 99 meetings was without question the 1989 clash won by The Citadel.  It’s without question the greatest because this is my blog, and I say it is.  Besides, I was there, one of the 7,857 in attendance that February night.

Both teams entered the game with 15 victories on the season.  The Gamecocks were driving to a rare NCAA berth (which they got despite losing to the Bulldogs; South Carolina would lose in the first round of the NCAAs to North Carolina State).  South Carolina led throughout most of the first half and pushed the margin to 11 on a 25-foot three-pointer by Troy McKoy at the buzzer.

The Gamecocks seemed to have all the momentum, but that changed quickly in the second half as The Citadel gradually got back in the game.  The Bulldogs trailed 71-65 with 9:30 to go when they went on a 13-2 run to grab a five-point lead.  The Citadel led 82-78 with just over a minute to play when Patrick Elmore grabbed a rebound.  Two passes later, the ball was in the hands of Ryan Nesbit on the near baseline.  Nesbit (coach Randy Nesbit’s younger brother) was 3-for-4 from three-land already in the game, but the situation didn’t call for a three.  It called for holding on to the basketball.  Ryan Nesbit didn’t care; he was hot.  Up went the shot.  It was a classic “No No No Yes Yes Yes” moment, as he swished the three to give The Citadel a seven-point lead with 1:01 remaining.

The Citadel managed to overcome some nervous free throw shooting (missing the front end of two 1-and-1s) and outlasted the Gamecocks, 88-87 (South Carolina hit a three with one second left, but the Bulldogs successfully inbounded the basketball and the game ended).  South Carolina lost the game despite shooting 54% from the field, including a sizzling 9-11 from behind the arc, and a solid 74% from the foul line.  Terry Dozier scored 25 points on 10-13 shooting and Brent Price added 22.

However, the Gamecocks were outrebounded 34-31 and committed two more turnovers than the Bulldogs.  The Citadel shot almost as well from the field as USC did and made eight three-pointers of its own, and also had the edge in free throws, as South Carolina had to resort to fouling down the stretch.  Six different Bulldogs finished in double figures in scoring.  A seventh, James Stevens, added eight points, the last of which was a free throw that provided The Citadel with its 88th, clinching point.

That game would wind up being the last victory of Ed Conroy’s playing career.  If he is to beat South Carolina for his next victory as a head coach, his team will need to play even better than it did against Michigan State.  South Carolina is 7-1, although the one loss was to the College of Charleston.  As the game notes for South Carolina say (in a tone that could be construed as dismissive):

South Carolina holds a significant edge over The Citadel in nearly every statistical category. The Gamecock offense
averages nearly 20 more points per game than the Bulldogs, while also holding a dominating edge in rebounds
(+10.6), opponent turnover average (+9.1) and steals (+7.5).

Of course, the points-per-game number is a touch misleading, since The Citadel averages 12 fewer possessions per game, and one goal for the Bulldogs in this game will be to try to keep things at a slower pace.  The opponent turnover average is no joke, though.  South Carolina is second nationally in turnovers forced and in the top ten in turnover rate.  The Gamecocks’ FG% defense is an outstanding 37.7% and USC also does a good job on the boards.  On offense, South Carolina is a very good three-point shooting team (40%), although oddly it does not have a lot of assists on its made baskets.  South Carolina has had some issues with injuries and academics and may only be able to suit up nine players on Saturday.

To pull the upset, The Citadel must avoid the turnovers that have plagued previous Gamecock opponents.  Keeping the game at its preferred pace will be key to doing that.  The Bulldogs must defend well along the perimeter (Michigan State may not have been a great test in this respect).  If it can keep the game close, The Citadel has a chance, as South Carolina is not a particularly good foul shooting team.  It’s the one statistic in which the Bulldogs have a decided advantage.

I was there 20 years ago next February when the Bulldogs pulled off a stunner.  I would very much enjoy a repeat of that result.  I can’t think of a better Christmas present.  Just in case, though, I did some shopping today.

10 reasons why The Citadel will beat Michigan State

1.  The Citadel threw the UC Davis game just to make the Spartans overconfident.

I mean, let’s get serious here.  Do you really think the Bulldogs were trying to play defense in the first half?  UC Davis shot 78% from the field.  Most teams couldn’t do that if the other team didn’t show up.  UC Davis had an eFG of 69% for the game.  Clearly, The Citadel was just setting a trap for Michigan State.  Having the Spartans win their last game by 58 points (over Alcorn State) was just an added bonus.

2.  Drew Neitzel isn’t playing in this game.

Neitzel did play in the only meeting between the two schools, which came two years ago during the 10th of Neitzel’s 11 seasons in East Lansing.  Michigan State edged The Citadel 73-41 in a game marred by biased officiating, courtesy of Big 10-friendly refs.  There is no other logical way to explain how the Spartans won that game.

3.  The Citadel gives up fewer points per game than Michigan State and commits fewer turnovers per game as well.

These are true facts.  You can look them up.  The Citadel averages 61.1 possessions per game, the 15th-slowest pace in the country, but I don’t think that is particularly relevant.  Neither is the fact that Michigan State ranks in the top 40 nationally in possessions per game (at 74.9).

4.  The Citadel’s school colors are similar to those of North Carolina.

Speaking of the Tar Heels, you can’t tell me that the Spartans won’t be traumatized when a team wearing light blue and white saunters onto the court at the Breslin Center (even if the contest against the Heels was at Ford Field).  Did you watch that game?  Mercy.  You can bet that the players at Rhode Island and Columbia are upset they can’t get a shot at MSU.

You know, if you squint Demetrius Nelson looks a little like Ed Davis…

5.  Idong Ibok could start at center for the Spartans.

Ibok is a native of Lagos, Nigeria.  He’s 6’11”, 260.  According to MSU’s game notes, Ibok (a redshirt senior who has already graduated; he made the Academic All-Big 10 team last season) has started 17 games in his career.  So far this season, he has played in six games (one start) and scored two points.

That kind of starting history/stat line bears an eerie similarity to that of Augustine “Gus” Olalere, who played for The Citadel in the early 1990s and who was also from Lagos, Nigeria.  So, it looks like The Citadel was about 17 years ahead of Michigan State on the recruiting trail.  Advantage:  Bulldogs.

(Don’t forget about Love Ishie, too.)

6.  The Citadel has never lost a game that was televised by the Big Ten Network.  The Citadel has also never lost a game broadcast nationally in high-definition.  I’m quite sure Dave Revsine will mention these two facts repeatedly during the game.

Incidentally, Steve Smith (former Spartan) is going to be the analyst for this game, which reminds me that we have a serious Steve Smith problem in our country.  Not only is there the ex-Spartan hoopster Steve Smith, soon to be impressed with the greatness that is basketball at The Citadel, but on Sunday night the NFL game will feature not one but two teams with wide receivers named Steve Smith.

Then you have the Steve Smith who used to play for the Raiders and Penn State, and the Steve Smith who coached third base for the Phillies this past season (since canned), and the Steve Smith who played basketball for La Salle and for about an hour in the NBA, and a host of other sports-related Steve and Steven Smiths (not to mention ESPN screamer Stephen A. Smith and ASU fixer Stevin Smith).  Basically, we have too many Steve Smiths.  I call for a moratorium on naming your kid Steven or Stephen if your last name is Smith, especially if you are athletic and there is a risk he could inherit your genes.

7.  The Citadel is a better free-throw shooting team.

The Bulldogs are shooting a solid 72% from the line thus far, while the Spartans are a mediocre 65% from the charity stripe.  In a close game, advantage Bulldogs!

8.  Michigan State has a lot of guys afraid to shoot the ball.

You can tell this is the case just by looking at the assist statistics.  MSU ranks 7th nationally with 19 assists per game, a sign that players would rather have their teammates shoot than take the initiative themselves.  Against Alcorn State, the Spartans had a school-record 35 assists, evidence of a timid squad.

Conversely, The Citadel averages less than 10 assists per game, which is in the bottom 40 nationally.  Obviously the Bulldogs have a lot of aggressive players who aren’t afraid to take big shots.  As Bill Raftery would say, Onions!

9.  The Spartans don’t seem to have a lot of personality.

According to MSU’s game notes, senior guard Travis Walton “loves candy”.  The other factoid listed about Walton is that he’s the team’s strongest player, but c’mon.  He’s a senior, and the best tidbit they can come up with is that he “loves candy”?  Weak.  You can’t win unless your players have more personality, like Bulldog freshman guard Cosmo Morabbi.

10.  This has been a tough year for the State of Michigan.

Let’s face it.  If there is going to be a year in which The Citadel beats Michigan State in hoops, this is the one.  Talk about bad karma…

The Iowa Hawkeyes come to town

On Thursday night, the Iowa Hawkeyes will become the first Big 10 team to ever play a game at McAlister Field House.  I’m sure people will be telling their grandchildren some day about the time big bad Todd Lickliter came to town with his band of marauding hoopsters, intent on destruction.  Then again, maybe not.

Let’s delve into some of the history (or lack thereof) between the two schools…

I first want to mention Whitey Piro.  Who is Whitey Piro?  Well, he was once the head basketball coach at The Citadel.  In 1947, Piro’s Bulldogs were 5-11.  That doesn’t seem like much of a record, but keep in mind the four coaches who followed Piro all had worse overall records.  Never has a .313 winning percentage looked so good.  Piro, who was born in Germany, went to high school in New York and graduated from Syracuse in 1941.  At Syracuse he was a star wide receiver and also played one year on the basketball team as a reserve.  He did not score a point that season, which arguably made him an ideal candidate to later coach hoops at The Citadel.

Piro played one year in the NFL, for the Philadelphia Eagles, before joining the Army Air Corps during World War II.  He would eventually have a long career as an assistant coach at Iowa (and was later a pro scout).  His son is Iowa’s executive director of development for intercollegiate athletics.

Piro is still alive and resides in Iowa City.  He is 90 years old.

After that, connections between the two schools dry up a bit.  Ed Conroy, of course, is a native of Davenport, Iowa, as is his assistant Andy Fox.  Assistant Doug Novak was once the head coach at a JC in Council Bluffs.

This will only be the fifth time The Citadel has ever played a Big 10 school in basketball.  Two years ago the Bulldogs played both Iowa and Michigan State (which will be the case this season as well).  In 1974 The Citadel played Indiana in Bloomington, and in 1970 the Bulldogs faced Northwestern in a Christmas tournament in Greenville.  The Citadel lost all of those games.

The last time The Citadel defeated a school currently in a BCS conference was 1989, when the Bulldogs upset South Carolina 88-87 in Columbia.  (At the time, the Gamecocks were members of the Metro Conference.)  Since then The Citadel’s record against current BCS schools is 0-45.  Prior to that 1989 game the Bulldogs had last defeated a major conference opponent in 1979, when they beat Clemson 58-56 in Charleston.  Thus, The Citadel has lost 70 of its last 71 games against schools currently in BCS conferences.

The Big 10 is not the only major conference The Citadel is 0-for-history against; the same is true of the Pac-10.  However, there have been very few games between The Citadel and teams from those two leagues.  That is also the case with the schools making up the Big XII.  The Bulldogs do have a win against a current Big XII school, though, having defeated Texas A&M (then of the Southwest Conference) 62-61 in 1971.

Okay, enough of that.  Let’s talk about this game.  First, a little background on Iowa’s recent hoops history.  It’s not what Iowa fans would like it to be.

Iowa had made three NCAA tournament appearances before 1979.  In 1955, Iowa reached the Final Four (in a 16-team tournament) before losing to Tom Gola and La Salle.  In 1956, the Hawkeyes made it to the title game (playing the regionals in Iowa City; the national semis were in Evanston, Illinois) before running into Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, and San Francisco.  The coach for those two teams was Bucky O’Connor.  Ralph Miller was the coach of the 1970 Iowa team that won the Big 10, the next time the Hawkeyes made an NCAA tournament appearance.

Iowa hoops in the “modern” era (when the tourney began to take on bigger-than-life dimensions) started with Lute Olson and a series of appearances beginning in 1979.  After stubbing its toe a bit that year (Iowa lost in the first round to Toledo in a game, interestingly enough, played in Bloomington), the Hawkeyes made their third (and to date, last) appearance in the Final Four in 1980.  As a five seed, Iowa had to play a first-round game against Virginia Commonwealth (the tourney had 48 teams back then) and then faced fourth-seeded N.C. State, which had received a bye, in Greensboro.  The Hawkeyes won that game, and then crushed the nascent Big East conference by winning back-to-back games in Philadelphia against top-seeded Syracuse and third-seeded Georgetown.  In the national semifinals, Iowa lost to eventual national champion Louisville, and then also lost to fellow Big 10’er Purdue in the consolation game (the next-to-last time the consolation game was played).

After that season, you better believe expectations were raised in Iowa City.  Olson continued to put teams into the field, but without the success he had in 1980.  Iowa lost in the first round in 1981 and the second round in 1982.  In 1983, as a seven seed, Olson’s charges rolled Norm Stewart and Missouri in round two before getting upended by Rollie Massimino and Villanova 55-54 in the Sweet 16.

Olson moved on, and was replaced by George Raveling, who was still one coaching move away from his inevitable job at Nike.  Raveling went to the tournament twice but was one-and-done both times.  His successor, Tom Davis, brought Iowa to the brink of another Final Four in 1987, but the Hawkeyes blew an 18-point lead to UNLV in the West regional final.  The next year, Davis guided Iowa to the Sweet 16, but the Hawkeyes were thumped by old coach Olson and his new team, Arizona.  That established a pattern for Davis, whose teams always won their first round matchup, but seldom their second.  Davis took Iowa to eight NCAA tournaments in twelve seasons.

He was succeeded by Steve Alford, who was the hot name in coaching (besides being an Indiana high school and IU legend).  Alford, though, had a bit of a disappointing run in Iowa City, only making the NCAAs three times in eight seasons.  He also only had three winning seasons in conference play over his tenure as coach.  Alford won one NCAA tournament game as head coach at Iowa, which is one fewer than he had while coaching (Southwest) Missouri State.  Alford jumped at the New Mexico job two years ago in a classic “jump or be pushed” situation.

Now the coach at Iowa is Todd Lickliter, in his second year with the Hawkeyes after a great run at Butler that included two Sweet 16 appearances in six seasons.  He’s a good coach, but he has work to do.  Iowa was 13-19 in his first season (6-12 Big 10).  Iowa lost its share of close games (seven by six points or less), but also played a lot of fairly close games, which can happen when you average just over 60 possessions per game.  Iowa scored 56 points per game, low by even Big 10 standards.  The Hawkeyes scored under 50 points seven times, including once in a game Iowa actually won (a 43-36 victory over Michigan State that drew guffaws from around the country).  Iowa was not a good rebounding team and struggled to force turnovers, while committing a bunch themselves (bottom 15 nationally in turnover rate on offense).  The Hawkeyes had mediocre offensive shooting stats across the board and were not good from the foul line (64.9%).

This season Iowa is 2-0 with home wins over Charleston Southern (by 20 points) and UT-San Antonio (by 6).  One player almost certain to give The Citadel problems is Cyrus Tate, a 6’8″, 255 lb. senior who in two games is averaging 13.5 points and 8.5 rebounds.  He has also blocked five shots in two games.  He’s the type of post player The Citadel could not compete successfully against last season, and so far this season.  Tate is one of seven Hawkeyes who have played significant minutes so far this year.  Another guy to watch is 6’5″ freshman guard Matt Gatens, who was the high school player of the year in Iowa last season.

Iowa is continuing the deliberate pace it employed last season, averaging 61 possessions in the two games it has played to date.

One more thing — according to Iowa’s game notes, the game against The Citadel will probably be the only Iowa game this season that will not be televised.  All but one of the rest of the Hawkeyes’ games are guaranteed to be on TV.  (Conversely, The Citadel will only be on television three times this season.)

Iowa is picked to finish near the bottom of the Big 10, along with Northwestern and Indiana.  Due to Iowa’s rebuilding, youth (five of its top seven rotation players are freshmen or sophomores), and style of play, if you were going to pick a Big 10 team that could be beaten in McAlister, this might be the one.  However, I don’t see it happening, at least not tomorrow night.

The best chance The Citadel has is to make more than its fair share of three-pointers while somehow holding its own in the paint.  If Demetrius Nelson and company could neutralize Tate and his friends, and The Citadel could shoot well (while not repeating the somewhat out of character 21-turnover performance against VCU), maybe the Bulldogs have a shot.  The Citadel has yet to prove it can successfully defend inside (or outside, really) against a team at the Division I level, though.

Still, there is a reason they play the games…

How a second non-BCS team could sneak into the BCS bowls

As of now, it looks likely that at least one non-BCS school is going to make a BCS bowl.  There are still three undefeated non-BCS teams, Utah (#7 in the BCS standings), Boise State (#9), and Ball State (#14).  In addition, BYU is #17 and could conceivably crash the top 12 if the one-loss Cougars were to beat Utah on November 22.

The real question is, could two non-BCS teams grab a BCS berth?  Probably not.  The rules state that if there are multiple non-BCS teams in the top 12, only the highest-ranked of them is guaranteed a bid.  Any other non-BCS school would go into the at-large pool.

The top 14 teams in the standings are eligible to be selected for an at-large bid.  Now, it’s possible that one of them could be selected over a BCS school for an at-large berth, but it strikes me as extremely unlikely.  After all, this whole setup is designed for the BCS schools, and the non-BCS’ers only got their meager semi-invitation to the party thanks to Congress raising its collective eyebrows.

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible for one of the outsiders to grab a bid.  What needs to happen is that a BCS bowl has no option but to pick a non-BCS school for an at-large bid.  How that could happen for this particular season…

There are 5 BCS bowls, so there are 10 spots available.  6 are reserved for conference champions.  No more than two teams from one conference can get bids (this is key).  Right now the top 14 in the BCS standings, by conference, is as follows:  Big XII – 5, SEC – 3, Big 10 – 2, Pac-10 – 1, Mtn. West – 1, WAC – 1, MAC – 1

So three of those Big XII teams can’t be picked, and one of the SEC teams can’t either.  Assuming the Big XII and SEC each get two teams into the BCS, which is just about a lock at this point, you have six spots left to fill.  Four of those go to the other BCS conference champions, and two are at-large selections.  One of those at-larges, though, technically becomes an automatic bid if a non-BCS school breaks into the top 12, which will almost certainly happen.  That leaves one spot for a second Big 10 team, a second non-BCS team, or…a second Pac 10 team.

Yes, a second Pac-10 team — and that team would be Southern California.  That’s because right now Oregon State still has the edge for the automatic berth out of the Pac-10, with the same number of conference losses as the Trojans and the tiebreaker by virtue of its victory over Southern Cal earlier this season.  If the Beavers win their last three games, they would go to the Rose Bowl, and then Southern Cal would become a very desirable at-large candidate.  That would eliminate any possibility of a second non-BCS school getting a BCS bid.

The other scenario involves the Big 10, which has two schools in the top 14 plus Michigan State, which is sitting at #15 and has an opportunity to at least tie for the conference title with a victory over Penn State.  Ohio State has two games left, against Illinois and Michigan, as does Penn State (the Nittany Lions play Indiana this weekend before finishing with the Spartans).  For a second non-BCS school to grab a berth, two of those three teams need to finish outside the top 14.  If you’re a fan of Boise State or Ball State, you probably should be rooting for Penn State to beat Michigan State, because there is a chance the Nittany Lions could stay in the top 14 even with a loss to the Spartans.  I tend to doubt it, but it’s possible (especially given that other schools in the top 14 will be losing too, as some of them play each other, so there will be further movement).  A loss by Michigan State definitely takes the Spartans out of the mix.

That leaves Ohio State.  I don’t think there is any way a 10-2 Ohio State team isn’t picked for an at-large berth (at least when the options are the Buckeyes or one of Ball State/Boise State).  A loss by Ohio State in either of its last two games, though, might drop it out of the top 14 (especially if the loss is to Michigan), and even if the Buckeyes hang in the top 14, 9-3 might not get it done.  Being a bit of a cynic, though, I suspect a BCS bowl given the choice between a 3-loss Ohio State team and an undefeated Boise State squad is taking the Buckeyes (I don’t think Ball State would have a prayer of getting the nod in that situation).

So basically, if you want two non-BCS schools in BCS bowls, you are rooting against Oregon State and Ohio State, and for everything else to shake out in an normal fashion, or at least as normal a fashion as you can get in college football.  (And you want the non-BCS’ers to run the table, obviously.)

Michigan State’s “brutal” hoops schedule is not really that brutal after all

Yesterday’s USA Today included a story titled “Spartans hope brutal schedule gets them ready for primetime,” which began:

One of the hallmarks of Tom Izzo’s coaching career at Michigan State has been to embrace a rugged non-conference schedule…

Izzo is at it again this season. Michigan State will play 10 games against teams that reached last year’s tournament, including defending national champion Kansas and this season’s probable No. 1, North Carolina. The Spartans will also play Texas and could meet Georgetown, Tennessee and Gonzaga.

“I just never want to be on Dick Vitale’s ‘cream puff’ scheduling list,” Izzo joked. “But many years ago we took on the ‘any time, any where’ theory of playing people and it’s kind of stayed with me.”

Izzo is not a masochist. He believes MSU can not only survive this schedule, but flourish against it.

Now, I like Tom Izzo.  He seems to be one of the very few bigtime college basketball coaches who may actually be a nice guy.  And Michigan State’s non-conference schedule does have some tough teams on it, as mentioned in the article.  However, when I saw that headline, I immediately did a double-take, because I was well aware that on that same non-conference schedule is a game in East Lansing against one of the toughest teams of all…The Citadel.

For the uninformed, The Citadel did not make the NCAA tournament last season.  No, the Bulldogs did not win the Southern Conference tournament, and were not deemed worthy of an at-large bid, possibly because of a 6-24 record that included just two wins over Division I opponents.  I quickly checked to see if a McDonald’s All-American had accidentally signed a letter of intent to play for The Citadel this season.  Nope.

Of course, you can have a cupcake or two (The Citadel had an RPI of 334 last season; there were 341 Division I teams) and still have a very difficult schedule.  However, the Spartans are also playing Idaho (last season’s RPI:  299), and Alcorn State (336, an RPI worse than The Citadel’s!), both at home, and have a road game against IPFW (RPI of 218).  The Spartans also have a game at Oakland (which I suspect might be a “home away from home” situation) and a home game against Bradley, which should be decent but not that big a test for MSU.

The rest of the non-conference schedule, admittedly, is impressive.  Michigan State plays Maryland in the first round of the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, a tournament that features several other teams that should be good this season, including Gonzaga, Tennessee, and Georgetown.  However, the article suggests Michigan State “could meet Georgetown, Tennessee and Gonzaga” when that’s not the case; the Spartans could only face two of them at most.  Michigan State plays Texas in Houston, and the Spartans also drew North Carolina in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge (a game that will be played in Detroit) .  MSU concludes its non-conference slate with a home game against defending national champion Kansas.

Michigan State will play twelve non-conference games.  Five are against teams it should defeat easily, and a sixth (Bradley) is a home game against a middle-of-the-pack mid-major.  The other six games include only one matchup (Texas) in which Michigan State will be the road team, and even that game is not on the opponent’s home court.  Michigan State will play three games on a neutral site in Orlando, with the first of those coming against Maryland, a team that is projected to finish seventh in the ACC.  North Carolina is favored by many to win the national title, but last year’s champs, Kansas, lost seven of the nine players that made up its rotation.  I’m sure the Jayhawks will have plenty of talent replacing those players, but the Spartans will have the opportunity of playing them at home and in early January, before those players have had a chance to mesh with each other.  Considering Michigan State won 27 games last season and has three starters returning (along with most of its regular rotation), I think the advantage lies with the Spartans.

That’s a fair schedule, and not one deserving of any criticism.  It strikes me as balanced.  I like the fact that Izzo is going on the road (at least the Ft. Wayne trip is a true road game; as I said, I’m not sure about that game in Oakland) against smaller schools.  The UNC, Texas, and Kansas games should be a lot of fun, and the tournament in Orlando should be excellent — I’m looking forward to watching it.  The Spartans will be well-prepared by the time the Big 10 season rolls around.

It’s not a brutal non-conference schedule, though.

You want to see a brutal non-conference schedule?  Just take a gander at what Fang Mitchell has put together for his squad this season (and seemingly every season).  Coppin State’s coach has set up a slate with nine road games and three neutral-site games in Hawaii:  at Purdue, at Kansas, at Richmond, at Loyola (MD), at Dayton, at Wisconsin, at Syracuse, the Rainbow Classic (Colorado is the first-round opponent), at Oklahoma, and at Missouri.  Coppin State actually mixes in a road conference game in there, so the Eagles will play thirteen games before their first home contest on January 10.

Now, that’s a brutal non-conference schedule.

The Big XII really needs a better TV deal

A few observations as I look over my TV listings chart for the upcoming college football weekend:

— The Ivy League will have one conference game not televised this week (Princeton-Cornell).  The Big XII will have two games not televised this week.  One of those games, MIssouri-Baylor, features the 14th-ranked team in the BCS facing a team led by an outstanding young quarterback (Robert Griffin).  It’s sure to be a wild shootout, like almost every other Big XII game this season, but it won’t be on TV.  The other game, Colorado-Texas A&M, isn’t much of a game, but in this day and age a major conference should have every one of its conference games on TV.  The Big XII’s current contract with Fox runs through 2011 and its ABC deal lasts through 2015, so I’m not sure things are going to change much for the next couple of years.

— I just realized the Southern Conference will also have two games not televised this week.  Clearly, the SoCon needs a better TV deal.  Having a deal comparable to the Big XII’s won’t cut it…

— The Pac-10 doesn’t have the greatest TV deal in the world either, but this week, it’s just as well.  Stanford-Washington State is not on TV, to the relief of Cougar fans everywhere.  Winless and soon to be Willingham-less Washington isn’t so lucky, having to travel to L.A. to play Southern Cal in FSN’s game of the week.  ABC snagged the solid Oregon-Cal matchup, so the only other game Fox had available was Arizona State-Oregon State, which will be its late-night game, so as not to offend east coast viewers.

— ESPN made Andre Ware’s travel plans much easier by assigning him Northwestern-Minnesota (with Dave Pasch).  Ware is also the radio analyst for the NFL’s Houston Texans, which are playing the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.  If he wanted, he could sleep in the MetroDome, since both games will be played there.

I can’t remember exactly what he said, but during last week’s Texas Tech demolition of Kansas, Ware said something to the effect that his coaches at Houston, Jack Pardee and John Jenkins, didn’t try to run up the score when he was in the game.  I remember Houston beating SMU 95-21 the year Ware won the Heisman (admittedly, he didn’t play in the second half).  Jenkins, of course, was the coach when David Klingler threw 11 TDs in a game (against I-AA Eastern Washington).  Maybe they didn’t let Andre run up the score, but to be honest, that’s probably a subject he should avoid.

— I am assuming we are in for another fabulous “Interactive Tuesday” broadcast for South Florida-Cincinnati on Tuesday night.  Rece Davis and Lou Holtz (but not Mark May for some reason) call that one, with the current king of blowout fodder, Rob Stone, roaming the sidelines.  Personally, I don’t think Interactive Tuesday is the same without having Todd Harris doing play-by-play.  It’s much better when it’s a complete train wreck, as opposed to just a minor derailment.

— The best pre-Saturday game is without question an FCS game, the matchup between #2 Appalachian State and #3 Wofford, on ESPN2 Friday night.

— Florida vs. Georgia.  Florida State vs. Georgia Tech.  Big games in their respective conferences, a state of Florida vs. state of Georgia matchup in both cases, and naturally taking place at the same time.

— Pam Ward will be calling a Michigan State game for the fourth time this season.  Ray Bentley has actually called five Michigan State games, as Pam had WNBA duty for one game (Clay Matvick filled in for that one).  My sympathies to fans of the Spartans.  Hey, at least you’re on national TV every week.

— The most intriguing thing about Michigan-Purdue this week is what hair color Charissa “Not the porn actress” Thompson will be sporting.

ESPN’s humongous 2008-09 college hoops schedule(s)

Wow.  I just looked at the release, which was published a couple of days back.  You can see it for yourself right here:  Link

That’s just for men’s college basketball.  The women will also have a significant presence on ESPN and its family of networks, as evidenced by this separate release.

Back to men’s hoops.  Awful Announcing estimated that the ESPN networks would combine to air around 1100 games this season, which is incredible.  To the surprise of nobody, however, none of those 1100 games will involve The Citadel.  When you are the worst basketball program in the history of Division I, though, you have to accept such indignities.  (From what I can tell, El Cid will be on TV three times this season, against the CofC and South Carolina on SportSouth, and against Michigan State on the Big Ten Network.)

While The Citadel may have been shut out, other small schools and low-profile programs fare better.  Just to mention a couple of them, Davidson gets four games (and probably should have more).  South Carolina State gets three games on ESPNU, which is certainly going to be the MEAC’s favorite network.  In fact, a lot of those 1100 games are going to be on the U, which is great if you have that network.  If you don’t, though…

Starting with conference play around mid-January or so, Thursday night in particular is going to be a great night for college hoops fans, with seven-game slates on a regular basis.  A typical Thursday will have ACC/Big 10/SEC/Big East doubleheaders on both ESPN and ESPN2, along with two games on ESPNU and an additional 11 pm ET game on ESPN featuring a WCC or WAC game (i.e., Thursday night is Gonzaga night!).

The ABC/ESPN group will usually feature about 12 games each Saturday (although there will be 17 games televised on the various ESPN networks on February 21).  ESPN and its varied platforms will also televise most, if not all, of the games for 10 preseason tournaments, and then there’s the much-discussed wall-to-wall hoops all day on November 18.

What is really amazing is that there is still plenty of basketball to be televised by the likes of the Big Ten Network, Fox Sports Net, Comcast SportsNet, etc.  All in all, it’s incredible how much hoops coverage is out there.  ESPN just happens to lead the way.