The Big Ten / ACC Challenge, currently underway with Wisconsin squeaking by Virginia Tech, typically tries to pit teams of equal talent level against one another. And with UNC starting the season as consensus number one and a scary, scary juggernaut, the Heels drew Michigan State. The Spartans are currently 12th in the nation, and 4-1 with a loss to (unranked, unimpressive) Maryland. This, of course, brings us to the subject question - is Michigan State the best the Big Ten has to offer?
Technically no, as they're currently two spots behind Purdue in the polls. The Boilermakers are also 4-1, but their loss was a respectable overtime battle with Oklahoma; it's much to early in the season to judge between the two. Looking at Michigan State in isolation, however, doesn't impress.
Although Andy Katz swears up and down that the Spartans are a threat, and this is a team that made it to the Sweet Sixteen last season. On top of that, they only lost two players, sixth man Drew Naymick, and point guard Drew Neitzel. Make that point guard, multiple award-winning, and all-around put the team on his back Drew Neitzel. Neitzel took more shots than anyone else on the team; he took more three pointers than the rest of the team combined. The two guys expecting to replace his behind-the-arc prowess, Chris Allen and the awesomely-named Korie Lucious, are averaging 18 and 8 minutes a game respectively.
Stripped of the perimeter game that has carried the team for the last three years, Michigan State relies on undersized junior Raymar Morgan for scoring and the even tinier point guard Kalin Lucas, who is all drive and not a deep threat. The Spartans have one player taller than 6'8" with any significant floor time, they'll be trying to outrun the Heels, and that won't work well.
I'll come out and say it - this year's Spartans won't have as much success as last year's. They're young, and missing some pieces at the moment. The good news is most of the team will return next season, and should cohere into something nice by 2010. This year in Detroit, however, we won't see that team. We'll see the team that fell to recently twice-crushed Maryland, and that team shouldn't give Carolina much trouble.