East Lansing, MI (SportsNetwork.com) - The second-ranked Michigan State Spartans begin what they hope is another highly successful campaign, as they play host to the Cowboys of McNeese State on Friday night.
McNeese State, which calls the Southland Conference home, is facing its highest ranked team since taking on No. 1 Illinois in the 1989 NCAA Tournament (a 77-71 loss). The Cowboys are embarking on their eighth season with coach Dave Simmons at the helm, but the return of three starters gives fans optimism that this season can be better than the 14-17 ledger the team put up a year ago.
Michigan State has won seven Big Ten titles and been to six Final Fours since Tom Izzo took the reins, and the Spartans are once again poised for greatness as they return the majority of last season's team that reached the Sweet 16. MSU is 90-24 all-time in season openers, and has won 33 of its last 36. Following this bout, the Spartans will battle No. 1 Kentucky in Chicago next Tuesday.
This game marks the first-ever meeting between McNeese State and Michigan State in men's basketball.
The Cowboys are hoping the return of Ledrick Eackles, who left the team abruptly for personal reasons midway through last season, will give them the boost they need to challenge in the Southland this year. As a collective unit, McNeese State was average in both scoring offense (66.3 ppg) and scoring defense (70.1 ppg), and with Eackles back to join Desharick Guidry (12.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg), Kevin Hardy (9.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and Craig McFerrin (8.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg), coach Simmons is hoping his team can reach its goals. Desharick Guidry could be a standout performer as he shot 41 percent from long range last season, but he will miss the first nine games due to academic issues. Others who could make a splash for the Pokes later this season include center sophomore center Matthew Moss (transfer, available Jan. 2), and freshman Marcus Mathieu, should he recover fully from knee surgery.
Led by guard Keith Appling (13.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.3 apg), Michigan State returns its top three scorers as backcourt mate Gary Harris (12.9 ppg, .411 3- point) and forward Adreian Payne (10.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 46 blocks) make up the core of what Spartans fans hope is another lengthy run in the month of March. MSU not only beats its opponents by scoring in bunches, but by also corralling the majority of loose balls and playing some pretty stingy defense. Last season, foes averaged just 59.1 ppg in hitting fewer than 40 percent of their field goal attempts, while also losing the battle on the boards by 7.5 caroms per contest. The key will be staying healthy and finding a suitable replacement for the one guy the team doesn't have back, former center Derrick Nix (9.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg).