Since losing to the North Carolina Tar Heels in the beginning of December, the Michigan State Spartans have put together a run of two reasonably solid victories against Oakland University and North Florida, a few games that served as good tune ups. Saturday, they’ll be challenged for the final time in the early season non-conference slate by taking a tough trip to tangle with the Texas Longhorns.
Last season, the Spartans outlasted a very game Longhorn squad in East Lansing, pulling away in the second half for a 67-56 victory. This time around, Texas has improved even more and already has a major upset of North Carolina under their belt. How will they score another one at the expense of Michigan State? What will the Spartans need to do in order to win in back to back seasons? Spartan Jump Shots is ready for another test.
How Michigan State Wins: Balanced scoring.
In the Spartans’ win over Oakland University, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling both went over 20 points, while Branden Dawson scored 16 and grabbed 13 big rebounds. Similarly, Payne went for 19, Dawson went for 12 and Denzel Valentine went for 11 in Tuesday night’s win over North Florida. The balance has been critical for Michigan State to regain their footing after a tough loss against North Carolina, especially in the absence of Gary Harris. On the road against a tough Texas team, the Spartans will need a similar effort. They will need to share the ball and try to get teammates into the mix for scoring. If only one or two players score big, Michigan State’s chances of surviving will be slim.
How Texas Wins: Toughness.
Rick Barnes attributed Texas’s road win against North Carolina to team toughness. Since the Longhorns don’t share the ball well (12.4 assists per-game) or score the ball consistently (shooting around 44 percent), they will have to get by out-toughing the notoriously gritty Spartans. Texas is rebounding the ball well (they’re seventh in the nation with 44 per-game) so that will need to be their blueprint against Michigan State. They’ll have to win battles for loose balls, cool any Michigan State momentum with baskets and be overly resilient against perhaps the toughest team in the nation to beat in a head to head battle of wills. This will almost certainly become a battle of who wants it more, and recently, Texas has proven they’re that team.
The X-Factors: Adreian Payne and Javan Felix
If there was ever one game Michigan State needed Payne to dominate, it’s Saturday’s. The Longhorns have been better on the glass than the Spartans early in 2013, and the tone for change will have to be set early by Payne, who needs to be a force in the middle scoring the ball and getting the Spartans plenty of second chance opportunities. Payne must be physical and overwhelming much like Derrick Nix was last year against the Longhorns. Good news is, Payne scored 13 against Texas last year as well, meaning he should have some experience to fall back on.
Felix had a big day against North Carolina, scoring 12 points and shooting 3-7 from three point land. He was a main spark plug which helped lead in the upset of the Tar Heels. Last year, Felix didn’t play fantastic against Michigan State, only scoring six points. Should he play better and spark a few rallies or sudden changes in the game, Texas will have a fantastic chance to beat the Spartans at home.
Most Important “State” Stat Of The Game: 51, the amount of rebounds Texas grabbed against North Carolina in their win on Tuesday. Considering North Carolina outrebounded Michigan State by a 49-38 margin earlier this season at the Breslin Center in their dominating victory, that number should be concerning to Tom Izzo. If the Tar Heels dominated the Spartans and the Longhorns dominated the Tar Heels, where does that leave Michigan State? Izzo and company need to find a way to fight to a draw, at worst, on the boards in order to win in a tough place. If they can win the board battle convincingly, they’ll likely escape with a win.
Intangibles: Tired legs against rested legs?
The Longhorns played a tough game on Wednesday, outlasting a tough North Carolina team on the road in a huge game for the program. Conversly, Michigan State beat North Florida in a warmup game which wasn’t even close. Which game will prove more mentally taxing to what team? Michigan State was able to get their stars plenty of rest, while Texas fought to the finish. Will there prove to be a mental hangover for the Longhorns? WIll Michigan State look untested and sloppy?
Prediction: This will be Michigan State’s first road test of year. The Spartans didn’t show well the last time they played in Austin during the 2009-2010 season. This time around, Michigan State finds some offense and somehow manages to measure up to Texas down low. They grit out a last possession victory against the Longhorns on the road with some clutch shooting. Michigan State 74, Texas 71
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax