|Oakland gets another crack at No. 16 Michigan St.|
While Michigan State plays its share of marquee games in some of the most notable arenas in the country, Oakland only gets that opportunity once in a while.
The mid-major that plays in the Horizon League and sits only about an hour or so away from the Michigan State campus will almost always play a tough nonconference schedule, but taking on the Spartans is usually the highlight of the season.
This time, the Golden Grizzlies (5-5) and No. 16 Spartans (6-3) will square off at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, home of the NBA's Detroit Pistons and the NHL's Detroit Red Wings.
"I think what you've got to realize is that this is their Madison Square Garden game," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "And for their guys, it's really an unbelievable opportunity not only to play in an arena like that -- it's usually been a packed house -- but then to play a team like us, to be honest with the you."
The teams have been playing each other on a fairly regular basis for the better part of the last 20 seasons. Most of those games have been played at Michigan State, but a handful were played at The Palace -- the old home of the Pistons -- and this is the second meeting to be played in Detroit.
Oakland has pushed Michigan State to the limit but hasn't won in 17 meetings. It's the tight games that keep Izzo and the Spartans from overlooking the Grizzlies, not to mention the regular upsets taking place around the country.
"We're approaching this game as a big game for a lot of reasons," Izzo said. "No. 1, we have to start getting better now, but I think we're approaching it that way because history has shown that they play us well every year."
The Spartans are taking a quick break from Big Ten play before resuming conference action next week. Taking on Oakland in the meantime means the focus will have to remain.
"They're just a pesky team," Michigan State sophomore Aaron Henry said. "They're always competing, always play hard. Last year, even though we won by a significant amount, the game felt closer than what it really was. It's just a team that competes and you can't overlook teams like this. This is where you can slip up and fall and you've just got to play the game and not play the opponent."
While Michigan State is rebounding from early setbacks, Oakland is coming off a tough loss at Bowling Green. In a game against one of the favorites to win the Mid-American Conference, the Grizzlies rallied back to take the lead only to watch it disappear in the final minutes.
Veteran coach Greg Kampe was upset about not closing the deal but at least saw some positives heading into the Michigan State game.
"The good is we took maybe the top team in league right to the wire on their court," Kampe said. "We know we can be there and we can compete (as we move forward). But we didn't win and now we've got to learn how to finish."
--Field Level Media