This Sunday, Michigan State University will host the annual ‘Spartan Invite Tournament’. Typically, this tournament will field teams from all across the Midwest, but for whatever reason, this year’s version of the Spartan Invite will only have three schools in attendance: #7 Central Michigan, #1 Grand Valley State, and of course #5 Michigan State. Despite only having three Michigan schools in action at this weekend’s event, there is still a lot to keep an eye on.
The host school, Michigan State, has only been in attendance at two events this year, currently sitting at 2-3 on the season. The Spartans certainly have struggled with consistency this season (see: OT loss to BGSU), but they have an upside that few teams have (see: first 20 minutes of GVSU vs. MSU game at the Gauntlet). Quite frankly, this MSU team may be one of the most overlooked teams nationally. They are loaded with talent, but up until now, they haven’t been able to turn that into consistent results. MSU is a team with a lot of variance in terms of the type of team you see out on the court. They could come out hot and dominate a point, making catches on any throw in arms reach, or they could come out completely flat and let the game get away from them. They have an opportunity to rewrite the narrative surrounding their club this weekend as they face off with two in-state rivals. Look for this team to play much more controlled than they have earlier in the season. If MSU’s leaders can step up and communicate all game loing, and the rookies can continue to show improvement, this talented squad will be dangerous, even against #1 GVSU. An undefeated tournament by MSU would vault them up the Gonzalez Standings as well as the Power Rankings.
Central Michigan is another team with a lot of ‘variance’. This fact is proven by their final game last weekend where they went down 4-1 to Cincinnati, only to storm back and win 5-4. Central Michigan has not looked like their normal selves this year, with a handful of blowout losses on their resume so far (they currently sit at 5-4 overall). It seems like this team hasn’t been able to play their best when facing another top team (like JMU (5-1 loss) or Miami (6-1 loss) last weekend). CMU has a few good arms, but as a whole, it seems like this team lacks the firepower to really compete with Final Four contenders. With that said, the last time Central played Michigan State, they stormed back to force overtime, so maybe that is the type of game we will see on Sunday. A solid showing by CMU this weekend would be a nice boost for their program heading into the midseason break. Remember, this CMU team had such a strong rookie class this year. Their core group of star players this season should have what it takes to turn things around and get CMU back on track to being a legitimate Final Four level team. This weekend could be their first step towards making that turnaround a reality.
The final team to discuss is Grand Valley State. GVSU is back at #1 in the country after a decent showing last weekend at the No Fear Invitational. The Lakers earned wins over Ohio State, Miami, and Towson. GVSU sits at 9-0 on the year, with plenty of star players on their roster, so it’s safe to say they will be the favorites to finish 2-0 at the Spartan Invite. With that being said, one could raise a concern about GVSU regarding their ability to ‘finish’. Remember, last weekend they did let Miami crawl back into the game and force overtime after taking a massive lead earlier in the game. They also let Towson bring that game back to a 3-2 deficit after going up 3-1. Sure, this whole thing may be a reach, but if you had to point out a main flaw for GVSU right now, that would be it. A good team can hold on to win big games, but a great team has the ability to truly bury their opponent when the opportunity presents itself. Up until last weekend GVSU was blowing out every opponent. Look for them to try to come away with two convincing wins this weekend to prove they still have that ability when facing strong competition.
Overall, this tournament present each team with some great opportunities to move forward heading into the winter break. MSU has the chance to have a breakout performance and make a statement that they are a title contender. Central Michigan will look to rebound after an ugly weekend at the No Fear Invitational. Two solid games by the Chippewas will show fans that they are righting the ship and will remain relevant this year. A dominant weekend by GVSU would prove to everyone that they are deserving of their spot at #1 in the rankings as we inch closer to the halfway point in the season. Sunday should give us three entertaining games, with a lot on the line for each squad. We will know more about each team after we see them in action this weekend.
The NCDA will have a live-stream up for all three games at the Spartan Invite either on YouTube Live or Facebook Live. Make sure to follow our social media channels Sunday morning to get updates on that!