The Palace - Detroit, Michigan
Tip: 5:30 PM / TV: ESPN2
The #4/#5 Texas Longhorns (11-0) look to remain undefeated as they take on their third Top 10 team this season with a trip to Detroit to play #9/#10 Michigan State. The Spartans (10-1) have won seven straight after dropping an early November contest to UCLA in Kansas City. Michigan State has two quality wins - Missouri (in Kansas City) and BYU, and probably should have beat UCLA - they led the Bruins by as many as 9 in the second half, including by 3 with less than two minutes to play.
Michigan State relies heavily on senior point guard Drew Neitzel (14.5 points) and sophomore forward Raymar Morgan (16.7) for their scoring. After those two, a host of contributors average between 7 and 9 points per game: center Goran Suton, forward Marquise Gray, guard Chris Allen, guard Kalin Lucas, and guard Durrell Summers.
Offense: This is a good offensive ball club - Michigan State makes a healthy portion of their 2-point shots, and when they miss, they hit the offensive glass better than anyone in the country. The Spartans are pulling in offensive rebounds on a stunning 46.8% of their possessions, a number which helps make up for their relatively high turnover rate (21.8%).
One thing to keep in mind here: even though teams usually enjoy what should be a big rebounding edge on Texas, there's a price to pay for crashing the offensive glass too hard, as the 'Horns run the fast break as well or better than anyone in the country. If you don't release some guys to cover the break, Texas will get out and run you to death. Will Tom Izzo try to muscle the offensive glass or send defenders back to keep Texas from getting into the fast break?
Defense: Tom Izzo's always been a good defensive coach, and once again the Spartans are a solid club. They hold opponents to 43% of their two-point shots, only 31% of their threes. Michigan State doesn't force many turnovers, and, surprisingly they haven't dominated the defensive rebounding as well as you'd expect from an Izzo club. Overall, this is a solid - not great - defensive profile. Don't be fooled, though: these guys are big, they're physical, and they're well-coached. Nothing will come easy for the 'Horns tonight.
Keys to the Game:
Both teams are extremely dependent on their point guards playing well. If either player struggles or gets in foul trouble, it could be a long night for their teammates. It's going to be especially important for Texas to have Augustin out on the floor, but let's hope we see a balanced offensive approach like we saw at UCLA. Standing around and having Augustin drive into a pile of big Michigan State bodies is not the best approach.
Both players have been ice cold from the field recently, and though Connor Atchley's stepped up offensively, Texas beat UCLA by having weapons all over the court who could fill up the rim. If we're not multi-dimensionsal on offensive tonight, we'll lose. If we're getting scoring from everyone, we're incredibly tough to outpace.
Michigan State doesn't shoot very well and turns the ball over frequently. If the 'Horns can keep the Spartans shooting jump shots and off the offensive glass, the chances of a win tonight increase dramatically.
Honestly, this is another brutally tough matchup for Texas. There's now enough tape on Texas that Tom Izzo's probably going to slow this game down, keep the ball from Augustin, and make Texas try to score other ways. Easier said than done, but it does mean the Longhorns will have to be playing good team basketball to win. I'm especially anxious to see how Abrams comes out and plays; if he's taking bad shots, wild shots, or forced threes, we're in trouble. If he's working within the offense and taking what's there - and hitting open looks - I like our chances.
Same goes for Damien James; we're just that much harder to defend when he's hitting 10-12 footers. With his elevation and high release point, he can get his shot whenever he wants it, so if the 'Horns are struggling elsewhere, having James on his game will help tremendously.
Can Texas really beat a third straight top ten team to open the season? Again, on the road? I have serious concerns about this game, but Texas has certainly exceeded my expectations all season long.