The Texas Longhorns (7-4) get their first true road test of the season, heading to East Lansing to battle the Michigan St. Spartans (10-2). Tom Izzo's ballclub boasts a marquee non-conference win against Kansas, but has also lost to UConn and Miami. The Spartans were my pick to win the NCAA Championship this year, and I expect them to be much better by March.
Michigan St. starts a perimeter-oriented lineup. Junior point guard Keith Appling leads the team in two key categories, notching 15.0 PPG and 4.2 APG. He shares ball-handling duties with freshman Denzel Valentine, a pleasant surprise and entrenched starter after beginning the season as a bench rotational player.
Fellow freshman Gary Harris was a high school All-American, and is the team's second-leading scorer at 12.6 PPG. Like Oklahoma St.'s Marcus Smart, Harris frequently gets tagged with intangible praise like "winner" and "high basketball IQ." Sophomore Travis Trice will see backup guard minutes.
Sophomore wing Branden Dawson could be considered the Spartans' best player, but he has been slow to recover from a torn ACL, suffered late last season. Likewise, Harris is dealing with a shoulder injury that he's powering through through. Despite the recovery, Dawson is still contributing 10.1 PPG and 5.9 RPG, and should be considered an outstanding defender.
There's experience inside. Michigan St. starts big-bodied senior Derrick Nix in the middle, and will frequently play lanky junior Adreian Payne as well. Cameron Ridley should get a lot of run, but will have his hands full. Combined, Nix and Payne post 15.8 PPG and 15.0 RPG inside.
The game's style and pace will be a complete 180 from Texas' tilt against North Carolina. The Spartans play grind 'em out Big 10 basketball. They'll slow the tempo down, work for halfcourt sets, and actually defend. With both teams great at defense and loose with ball control, it could devolve into an ugly game.
I'd like to say that Texas is playing with house money, but even after a big win at North Carolina, the Longhorns' four losses are an albatross. A win at Michigan St. would be absolutely huge. Fingers crossed.
Mich St: Branden Dawson (Limited - Torn ACL) | Gary Harris (Limited - Sore Shoulder)
TEXAS (7-4) at
No. 20/19 Michigan St. (10-2)
Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012 • 1 p.m. CT
East Lansing, Mich.
Breslin Center (14,797)
Dave O'Brien (play-by-play), Jay Bilas (analyst).
Radio: Longhorn IMG Radio Network
Craig Way (play-by-play); Eddie Oran (analyst).
Satellite Radio: XM 202 / Sirius 216
Streaming Audio: TexasSports.com
Live Stats: GameTracker