Big games on big stages early in the college basketball season aren’t anything new to Michigan State – to say the least.
The Spartans have played the likes of North Carolina, Connecticut and Kansas early in the past two seasons, so when MSU meets Kentucky on Tuesday, it isn’t a new experience.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve always had those games when we played the top teams in the country,” junior Branden Dawson said. “My freshman year we played North Carolina and I was guarding Harrison Barnes and Gary (Harris) and Denzel (Valentine)’s freshman year, we were playing UConn.
”I think we are basically used to it now, playing premier and great teams.”
Junior Travis Trice also got his first experience against North Carolina and said it helps MSU to already have gone through big games.
“It definitely helps because we have already experienced what their first game is going to be with playing in San Diego, playing in Madison Square Garden," he said. "We’ve played in some of the biggest venues out there. I think it’s really helped us.”
While this time around the stakes are raised a little bit with the meeting between the nation’s No. 1 and No. 2 teams, senior Keith Appling insists the Spartan are focused on their team and not worried about others.
“We don’t worry about that,” he said. “Last year, we faced Kansas which had a pretty good team as well and we came out with a victory. We aren’t too caught up in all of that.
”We just want to play well as a team and try and come up with a win.”
Whether the Spartans win or lose, they will leave the game with a better understanding of where the team is -- part of why they are on the schedule.
Senior Adreian Payne said the game will mean a lot and that is part of coach Tom Izzo’s mentality for scheduling big games.
”Coach Izzo, that’s what he does,” Payne said. “He makes sure his team prepares for everything and this is something he makes sure that we prepared for and that’s why we came here.”
Sophomore guard Gary Harris echoed Payne’s thoughts that big games are a big reason why players come to MSU and said the opportunity should be fun for MSU.
“It’s going to be fun, just the whole Champions Classic and being out there in Chicago,” he said. “Four great teams will be there with us, Kansas, Duke and Kentucky. … It was a tremendous atmosphere last year, but I expect it to be way better this year just because the names that are going to be there.
"It’s going to be fun, really fun.”