GAME NOTES: The second-ranked Michigan State Spartans begin their quest for the national title when they host the Eastern Michigan Eagles tonight in the season opener for both teams.
Charles Ramsey is at the helm of the Eastern Michigan program, and his team is a member of the Mid-American Conference. While the club did lose its best scorer from last season, a considerable amount of talent returns. Still, there is no doubt that the Eagles are facing an up-hill climb against the loaded Spartans.
Speaking of Michigan State, it came within two points of playing for the national championship again last year, losing to Butler in the Final Four (52-50). A couple of key players were lost from that squad, but the vast majority of key contributors are back in place. Tom Izzo is one of the finest coaches in all of college basketball, and a trip back to the Final Four isn't just possible this season, it is expected.
Michigan State owns a 26-3 series advantage over Eastern Michigan, and the most recent matchup between the two programs came back in 1999.
Coach Ramsey can rest easy knowing that one of the best players in the MAC resides on Eastern Michigan's roster. Brandon Bowdry averaged a double-double last season (16.3 ppg, 10.0 rpg), and gives the Eagles an athletic spark on the floor. Bowdry gives a consistent effort and has a non-stop motor that makes him a force during each matchup. However, after Bowdry there isn't a whole lot in terms of offensive punch for Eastern Michigan. Jay Higgins started 30 games last season and averaged 8.0 ppg. This time around, Higgins will have more space to roam as opponents will likely key on Bowdry, which means the senior will have to take the next step offensively. Coach Ramsey will rely heavily on Antonio Green in the backcourt, after the guard dished out 58 assists last year, but he shot just 32.1 percent from the field, so don't expect the Spartans to pay too much attention to him.
Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year Kalin Lucas (14.8 ppg, 4.0 apg) highlights a loaded Michigan State roster, and Durrell Summers (11.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg) will provide plenty of help. Lucas needs to show he is healed from the ruptured Achilles' tendon that he suffered last March, but he is an elite point guard when healthy. While it may take some time to get his playing legs back, there is no denying his talent and what he means to this club. Replacing Kris Allen, who was dismissed by Izzo over the summer, was a task expected to be handled by junior Korie Lucious , but he is out for the foreseeable future due to recent knee surgery so it will be interesting to see who fills the void. Draymond Green (9.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and Delvon Roe (6.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg) will help, as both have the ability to stabilize things in close to the basket and keep the Spartans among the top rebounding teams in the country.
The East Lansing crowd has been eager for basketball to return ever since the Final Four loss to Butler. If Lucas is healthy, and it certainly seems that he is, the Spartans have as good a chance as any team to cut down the nets.