The 20th-ranked Michigan State Spartans close out their non-conference schedule on Saturday, when they welcome the Texas Longhorns to East Lansing for a showdown at the Breslin Center.
Tom Izzo's squad has won eight of its first 10 games, with the losses coming in the season-opener against Connecticut and at Miami-Florida to close out November. Since the loss to the Hurricanes, MSU has run off five straight victories, including Tuesday's 64-53 road win at Bowling Green.
Rick Barnes' Longhorns will be playing their first true road game of the season. Texas is a modest 7-4 overall, but enters with plenty of confidence, coming off its most impressive win of the year, an 85-67 rout of nationally- ranked North Carolina.
This marks the eighth meeting between these two teams. Texas holds a 4-3 series advantage thanks to wins in each of the last two meetings.
Texas is at its best when it can dictate the pace with its stingy defensive play. The Longhorns are yielding a mere 59.0 ppg this season and rank second nationally in field-goal percentage defense (.330). That mark includes a mere .233 from behind the arc. Sophomore Sheldon McClellan leads the team in scoring at 15.5 ppg, having scored in double figures in every game this year. Julien Lewis is the only other Longhorn currently averaging double digits at 11.6 ppg. Javan Felix (8.6 ppg) and Jonathan Holmes (7.3 ppg) provide limited offensive punch. Holmes is tops on the team in rebounding at 8.0 caroms per game.
In a game that North Carolina never held a lead, Texas went up by as many as 19 points, before settling in for the win over the Tar Heels. The Longhorns held a strong offensive team in check, as UNC shot a mere .313 from the floor and turned the ball over 18 times. McClellan tied for the game-high with 18 points in the win. Lewis poured in 16, while Holmes and Ioannis Papapetrou tacked on 15 and 10 points, respectively. Papapetrou added 10 rebounds to finish with a double-double in just 17 minutes of work.
The Spartans are another team that wins with smothering defense. Opponents are averaging a mere 56.1 ppg against Michigan State this year, shooting a meager .352 from the floor. In addition, MSU has dominated the glass, with a +10.8 rebounding margin, grabbing just over 40 rebounds per game. The team is not an offensive juggernaut by any stretch, but doesn't need to be with the way it plays defense. The Spartans are putting up a modest 71.1 ppg this year, led by a trio of double-digit scoring averages. Keith Appling has been the catalyst, leading the team in both scoring (15.0 ppg) and assists (4.2 apg). Gary Harris is next in the scoring column at 12.7 ppg, followed by Branden Dawson and his 10.1 ppg.
A 9-0 run in the second half provided Michigan State with enough breathing room, as the Spartans went on to secure the win at Bowling Green. MSU limited the Falcons to just .328 shooting, including just 5-of-19 from behind the arc. Harris led the team with 13 points in the win. Denzel Valentine and Dawson chipped in with 12 and 10 points, respectively. Appling was just 3-of-9 from the field overall, finishing with nine points. He also struggled in terms of ball-handling, recording just two assists, while turning the ball over six times.