Brooklyn, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - The Coaches vs. Cancer Classic continues at the Barclays Center on Friday night, as the top-ranked Michigan State Spartans take on the Virginia Tech Hokies.
The winner of this matchup will play the survivor of the Oklahoma/Seton Hall bout in Saturday night's championship game, while the losers do battle in the consolation game.
Virginia Tech played each of its first four games at home, and after suffering a disappointing season-opening setback to USC Upstate, it has reeled off three straight victories, including a 105-92 triumph over VMI on Monday. The Hokies have had surprising success against top-ranked teams in their history, going 4-7, most recently knocking off No. 1 Duke in February of 2011.
After its latest victory over Portland (82-67), Michigan State has improved to 4-0 start to the season, with its statement victory coming on Nov. 12 over then-No. 1 Kentucky, 78-74. The Spartans, the second-ranked team in the preseason poll, graduated to the top spot in the latest edition, marking the first time they've been No. 1 since the 2000-01 campaign.
This bout marks the first-ever meeting between the two teams.
The Hokies played far from their best on the defensive end of the floor against VMI in allowing 92 points, but it didn't matter much as they shot a lofty 52.2 percent from the field (including 11-of-17 from 3-point range) in the double-digit victory. Pacing five players in double figures was Jarell Eddie, who made all five of his attempts from beyond the arc on his way to 21 points. Ben Emelogu was also hot from long distance (4-of-7) for 19 points off the bench, while C.J. Barksdale netted 16 points in his season debut. Devin Wilson (13 points) and Adam Smith (11 points) were also impressive.
The breakout game certainly helped Virginia Tech's season stats, as it now shoots 46.4 percent from the field for 83.5 points per game. Eddie is the go- to option with 16.5 points per game, doing most of his damage from 3-point range (10-of-20). Emelogu (15.8 ppg) has been equally busy from deep (11- of-21), while Smith (10.8 ppg) and Wilson (10.3 ppg) are mainstays in the starting lineup.
The Spartans experienced a bit of a scare versus Portland earlier in the week, as the Pilots tied the game at 46 midway through the second half, but MSU turned on the afterburners from there, outscoring their opponent 36-21 over the final 12 and a half minutes to earn the win. Keith Appling matched a career high with 25 points while making all five of his 3-point attempts, and he also handed out seven assists paired to just one turnover. Adreian Payne manned the paint with 19 points and seven rebounds, and Gary Harris poured in 15 points despite a less than stellar shooting effort (5-of-13).
MSU's early-season dominance has been well-documented with strong margins in terms of scoring (+17.5), rebounding (+6.3) and turnovers (+3.0). Payne is the top scorer with 17.5 points per game, and he's the rare big man who's equally present down low (7.8 ppg, 1.0 bpg) as he is on the perimeter (4-of-10 from 3- point range). Harris (16.5 ppg) and Appling (15.3 ppg, 6.3 apg) make up one of the nation's best backcourts, while Brandon Dawson (9.0 ppg, 9.5 rpg) jumps back and forth from the starting lineup to the sixth man.