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Zags seek redemption in clash with second straight Big Ten foe

The Michigan State Spartans put their seven- ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs.

Tom Izzo's Michigan State squad opened the 2011-12 season with a couple of tough matchups against ACC powers North Carolina and Duke, and lost them both. Since then however, the Spartans have posted double-digit wins over mostly lackluster competition, the one exception being another ACC foe in Florida State. MSU, which hopes to challenge Ohio State for the top spot in the Big Ten Conference this season, is playing just its second true road contest of the season tonight. The Spartans will kick off league play at home against Indiana on December 28.

Gonzaga has won five of its first six games, the lone setback coming last Saturday as coach Mark Few's team took to the road for the first time this season and dropped an 82-75 decision at Illinois. The Bulldogs, who are once again the class of the West Coast Conference, are in the midst of a murderous stretch that will have them face Notre Dame, Illinois, Michigan State, Oral Roberts, Arizona and Butler in a span of 20 days. GU opens WCC play at Portland on December 28.

Michigan State hadn't scored more than 76 points in its first seven games, but has really turned up the heat in the last two. First it was a 110-68 rout of Nebraska-Omaha, and that was followed by an 89-69 trashing of Central Connecticut State. Not exactly the two-game stretch the team endured to open the season, but good for morale just the same. Travis Trice came off the bench to net 20 points and dish out five assists to power MSU in the recent triumph over CCSU, while starters Draymond Green and Branden Dawson tallied 14 amd 11 points, respectively. Dawson also grabbed 11 rebounds to record his first career double-double. Derrick Nix logged 21 minutes off the bench, and turned in 13 points and six boards for the Spartans, who made good on 51.6 percent of their field goal attempts, which included eight three-pointers. MSU dominated the paint (42-24) and in bench points (49-11). Despite shooting just 39.4 percent from the floor, Green is averaging a double-double with 14.3 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. Keith Appling (12.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg) and Brandon Wood (9.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg) have both performed well at times this season, helping Michigan State score 74.8 ppg on 45.9 percent overall field goal efficiency. Defensively, the Spartans allow just 56.7 ppg, with foes hitting a mere 36.1 percent of their total shots, and 28.1 percent of their three-point tries. A +12.6 rebounding margin has certainly helped the cause.

Gonzaga boasts three double-digit scorers, with 7-0 center Robert Sacre leading the way with 16.5 ppg. Add 7.2 rpg and at least a blocked shot per outing, and Sacre is the early favorite to be named WCC Player of the Year. There is still a lot of basketball to play, but he is a gifted big man capable of taking a game over at either end of the court. Additionally, freshman Kevin Pangos has opened eyes with his 14.3 ppg, and he is joined by Elias Harris (13.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg) to give coach Few multiple options when game-planning for a specific opponent. As a team, the Zags are shooting 44.6 percent from the field in netting 77.5 ppg. They hit their three-point shots nearly 40 percent of the time, and they are +4.0 in rebounding margin. On defense, Gonzaga allows 66.2 ppg and foes are shooting 43.0 percent from the field, and 38.0 percent from beyond the arc. Harris was high man in the loss to Illinois, as he went 5-of-10 from the floor and 8-of-12 from the foul line to finish with 19 points. He grabbed eight of the team's 27 rebounds, and he also came up with three steals. Sacre tallied 16 points, and Pangos chipped in with 11. Gonzaga wound up at 51 percent shooting for the game, but Illinois finished at 53.3 percent.