The #18 Horns (2-0) have their first chance to impress tonight in NYC against Michigan State (3-0). Tip is 8 PM on ESPN in the semifinals of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic. Check out Dexter Pittman's postcard from the Big Apple.
Texas whipped Alcorn State and Chicago State in Austin to advance while Michigan State beat Brown and Youngstown State in East Lansing. The Spartans also beat the Citadel by 32 points at home on Sunday night.
The Horns arrive in New York City as the only ranked team of the four and the favorite to claim this early season tournament championship. Michigan State is not ranked and is picked to finish fourth or fifth in the Big 10. This year's team does not matchup with the uber talented Michigan State teams of recent years. Gone are Maurice Ager, Shannon Brown, and Paul Davis from last year's squad. Even without obvious NBA talent, it would be a mistake to discount a Tom Izzo coached team too heavily. The Spartans will likely be back in the NCAA tournament for 10th straight season.
The Spartans and the Horns have a few things in common this year. Texas lost all five starters from last season. Michigan State lost four. Only point guard Drew Neitzel returns. Like the Horns, the Spartans have made their living by winning the battle on the boards. Also like the Horns, continuing their rebounding dominance this year will be a challenge. Last, it appears the guards will be the strength of both teams. Along with Neitzel, sophomore Travis Walton will start in the backcourt. Walton is a solid defender and takes care of the ball well. He is working to improve his outside jump shot.
Through the first three games, Neitzel is the team leader in points at 13.7 ppg. The Spartans will need Neitzel to score a lot to have any chance against the Horns. Walton will also need to have a big game distributing the basketball. The other likely starters are sophomores Maurice Joseph (6'4" 180) and Goran Suton (6'10" 238) and freshman Raymar Morgan (6'7" 210). Joseph is second on the team in scoring at 12.3 ppg and Suton leads the team in rebounding at 7.7 rpg. Suton lacks the strength usually seem in Spartan big men. Morgan was a talented high school player last year who has scored in double figures in his first three collegiate games.
On paper, it doesn't look like the Spartans will be able to score enough to upset the Horns. The Spartans are averaging 68 points per game while the Horns have scored over 90 in both their contests. Texas appears to have the advance in guard play, athleticism, and depth. We also have Kevin Durant. As long as we control turnovers and limit offensive rebounds, Texas should advance. I'll say 85-70.
The last time these two teams met Texas won 85-76 in San Antonio to advance to the Final Four. Anyone remember TJ's 19 points and 10 assists?