The Michigan State Spartans are one of the premier programs in college hoops. And this is with good reason; over the last 20 years the Spartans have won a national championship, made six Final Fours, and have reached the Sweet 16 in nine seasons. It is a remarkable track record that very few programs even come close to matching.
Like every other year, coach Tom Izzo has an talented squad that has real hopes of reaching the Final Four. Michigan State is balanced on offense and terrific on D. But the 9-1 Spartans have scuffled at times this season, losing at home in a lopsided game against North Carolina, and struggling against Columbia and Oakland. And coach Izzo's squad has been banged up, with Gary Harris, Travis Trice, and Matt Costello missing recent games. Both Harris and Trice appear likely to play against Texas, while Costello will stay back in Michigan as he recovers from Mono.
Like all Michigan State teams over the last two decades, this team knows how to defend. The Spartans are currently ranked seventh nationally in Ken Pomeroy's defensive rating. As a team, they have no meaningful defensive weakness. Texas will need to get out and run, as scoring against Michigan State in the half-court is going to be hard. Michigan State is one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the nation (nothing new here), so it will be interesting to see if the Spartans can limit second chance shots for Cameron Ridley and company, shots that are a crucial part of the Texas offense.
On offense, the Spartans are led by lead guard Keith Appling. The 6-1 senior does everything well. With an effective field goal percentage of 61 percent and minuscule turnover rate, Appling can hurt you from anywhere on the floor. He is 17-34 from three point range, and gets nearly half of his shot attempts at the rim. He is also the key playmaker for Tom Izzo.
Appling's most talented teammate is Adreian Payne, a 6-10 senior forward who is both the Spartan's best rebounder and one of their best three point shooters. Branden Dawson is an athletic forward who is active on the offensive glass and an effective finisher in transition. And assuming he plays, Gary Harris will be hoping to shake out of his three point shooting slump. Harris is only 16-58 from three on the season, but last year he made 41 percent of his 158 attempts from long range.
One interesting note about Michigan State. Great offensive rebounding has long been the signature of Tom Izzo's teams. But this season, the Spartans have posted a run-of-the-mill 31 percent offensive rebounding percentage, which ranks 182nd nationally.
G- Keith Appling, 6-1
G- Gary Harris, 6-4
F- Branden Dawson, 6-6
F- Alex Gauna, 6-9
F- Adreian Payne, 6-10
Michigan State is currently ranked #5 in the AP poll. The Spartans started the season at #2, and held the #1 rankings for three consecutive weeks, before losing to North Carolina.
Tip: 3:00 PM CST Saturday