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Huskies to play Michigan State in Armed Forces Classic
Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie gestures during the first half of an NCAA basketball game against AIC in Storrs, Conn., Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012. AP
Playing a non-conference game at a neutral site isn't new in the college basketball world, nor is it new to the UConn men's basketball team. Playing a neutral site game in a different country halfway across the world, however, is something that's never been done before in the history of NCAA basketball.
That will all change on Friday night.
After two exhibition victories against Division II teams, UConn will finally open up their regular season against No. 14 Michigan State in The Armed Forces Classic at the U.S. Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany on Friday night. The game will take place at midnight in Germany, but will be aired live on ESPN.
The two teams will also be wearing camouflaged uniforms to honor the 3,500 military personnel in attendance.
The last few seasons, UConn has opened the year against cupcake opponents, so facing a team as highly touted as Michigan State to tip off the season might not be seen as ideal. This also marks the first time in the new century that the Huskies aren't playing their first game of the year in the state of Connecticut. Head Coach Kevin Ollie, entering his first season at the helm, thinks it's great for his young Huskies squad.
"I don't look at it as an obstacle, I look at it as an opportunity," Ollie said, following the 100-62 win against UMass-Lowell on Sunday. "We have a great opportunity for our team and our university. We're going over there and we're honoring our troops. That's a great honor for our kids, and plus we got three German kids [on the team]."
The game in Germany is going to be special for the three German players on UConn, as they'll get to return to their home country and play in front of their families. Junior center Enosch Wolf, junior forward Niels Giffey and freshman forward Leon Tolksdorf were on the court together for a few minutes on Sunday.
A majority of the scoring is expected to come from the guards for the Huskies this season. Junior guard Shabazz Napier, who was named second team Preseason All-Big East, was UConn's best returning scorer last season, as he tallied 13.4 points per game. Sophomore guard Ryan Boatright was second with 10.4 points per game.
Meanwhile, freshman guard Omar Calhoun has dazzled in his first two exhibition games, scoring 44 points and knocking down eight threes. Sophomore forward DeAndre Daniels-who had 15 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks on Sunday-has been impressed by Calhoun, and knows that the freshman from Brooklyn will be important to the team's success this year.
"He doesn't seem like a freshman," Daniels said on Sunday. "He's come out with confidence and he's shooting the ball well. We're going to need him against Michigan State."
The Spartans lost All-American big man Draymond Green to the NBA, but they're still a top team in the Big 10 and are even considered a national title contender. Michigan State returns four of their six top scorers from a season ago and have also added freshman Gary Harris, who was ranked as the best shooting guard in the 2012 high school class. Ollie knows the game will pose a challenge to the Huskies, but is confident in his team.
"We got to be able to match their physicality, match their effort and we're going to do that," Ollie said. "If we come out with the effort and play hard, we're going to give ourselves a chance to win. That's all I can ask for."
The last time the two teams met was in the EA Sports Maui Classic in 2010, the same year that UConn won its third national title. The Huskies beat the then-No.2 Spartans, 70-67, behind Kemba Walker's 30-point outburst.
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