Head-to-Head: Michigan State vs. Texas
Bracketography analysts Chris Mackinder (Big Ten) and Jonathan Wall (Big 12) take a look at the upcoming weekend game between Michigan State and Texas. Each writer will argue why his respective conference’s representative will come out on top in this critical non-conference matchup.
Mackinder’s Michigan State Analysis
During Michigan State’s win against The Citadel on Wednesday night, the announcers discussed a conversation they had had with MSU coach Tom Izzo in the preseason and about an hour before tip-off. Before the season, Izzo said North Carolina was the overwhelming favorite to win the national title, but there were about 15 other teams with legitimate dreams of reaching the Final Four. When asked the same question Wednesday, after Michigan State had been embarrassed in its only two national televised games this season, Izzo stood by his thoughts. Some would say Izzo is just defending his team and saying what any coach would say. However, those who know Izzo realize he speaks his mind and if he felt the Spartans had fallen out of that group of 15, he would have said so.
One of the teams MSU mighte have to beat in March in order to advance to the Final Four is Texas. The Spartans get a chance to knock off the Longhorns and get back into the Final Four discussion this Saturday.
The game will be played at a “neutral” site in Houston and is part of a “home-and-home” series that began last season (MSU won at a “neutral” site known as The Palace of Auburn Hills). Texas is a smaller team and loves to shoot the three. Defending the 3-pointer has been one of MSU’s biggest weaknesses this season, so getting in the face of shooters such as A.J. Abrams is a must.
Offensively, the Spartans need to attack the paint. If the Spartans can dominate the boards, there is a great chance for plenty of offensive buckets. If MSU can get a dozen or more second-chance points, it’ll take the pressure off MSU’s half-court offense that might struggle against Texas’ pressure. The Spartans also will benefit from the return of Goran Suton, who played 17 minutes Wednesday in his first game in three weeks. His experience, plus a handful of other big men, will be key for the Spartans. Ever since Mateen Cleaves graduated, the Spartans haven’t been able to field a team that didn’t suffer turnover problems. Outside of Kalin Lucas, who has a remarkable 6.8-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, the Spartans don’t like to hang on to the ball. Part of the reason North Carolina defeated MSU by 35 points in Detroit was the Spartans’ inability to hold on to the basketball (MSU committed 21 turnovers, many of those unforced). If MSU actually gives itself a chance to score on each possession, MSU will be dangerous in this game.
WHY MSU WILL WIN: Which team has more to lose in this game? The answer is simple: the Spartans. Texas’ 9-1 record and No. 5 ranking is great and the Longhorns have no shame in losing to Notre Dame (the best game so far this year in my opinion). The Spartans, on the other hand, need a win to validate their lofty preseason ranking and to give the Big Ten some much-needed credibility. Few teams rebound like Michigan State and against smaller squads, the Spartans completely dominate the glass. I’ll take a guess Izzo will stress two things heading into this game: “Don’t let Texas beat you with 3-pointers and rebound, rebound, rebound.”
Prediction: Michigan State 77, Texas 72
Wall’s Texas Analysis
It doesn’t matter if your name is Duke, Georgetown or North Carolina–there comes a time in every season when even the best programs in the nation sleepwalk through an early stretch of games. Turnovers become commonplace, the margin of victory becomes smaller, and before you know it, people start question your legitimacy as a Top 5 team.
For Texas, that stretch of games came most recently against Texas State and Texas Southern University, where the Longhorns allowed two teams with a combined record of 3-14 to hang around with them–one of the top teams in the country–on their home court.
Chalk it up to Texas being kind to its lowly in-state brethren, or looking ahead to games against Michigan State and Wisconsin; whatever the reasoning is, there’s no denying that Texas has looked flat recently.
I can promise you Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo won’t be as kind when the 20th-ranked Spartans invade Houston on Saturday for the second leg of a “home-and-home” series. Unlike some of the ranked teams Texas has defeated recently, Michigan State will pose a different problem for the fifth-ranked Longhorns, that being a strong interior game.
Raymar Morgan, Delvon Roe and Goran Suton will test Texas’ frontcourt early and often by crashing the boards whenever they get the chance. Izzo-coached teams are known for their strong rebounding, so it’ll be Dexter Pittman’s job to make sure they get as few second chance opportunities as possible.
If the ‘Horns are going to have their way in this game offensively, they need to make sure A.J. Abrams gets it going from the outside. Besides leading the team in scoring at 20.9 ppg, Abrams is also shooting .474 from 3-point range. That’s a percentage coach Rick Barnes will be hoping for on Saturday.
Without the services of D.J. Augustin at the point, Barnes will once again get the opportunity to see Justin Mason run the offense against one of the top guards in game. Michigan State’s Kalin Lucas was the main reason Texas fell last season to the Spartans, and once again his matchup against Mason could prove to be the biggest one of all. If Mason can somehow find a way to force Michigan State’s guard into bad turnovers (something Lucas isn’t accustomed to doing), Texas has the athletic ability to make MSU pay on the other end. What Texas can’t allow is Michigan State to get comfortable in a half-court game. If that happens, the Longhorns could be in for a long day.
WHY TEXAS WILL WIN: Texas should have revenge on its mind after last season’s loss to Michigan State. After falling behind early, the Longhorns managed to claw their way back into the game late in the second half only to have their comeback bid fall short, 78-72.
Texas can’t allow Lucas to run the show again. Abrams and Mason will need to play with the same confidence that was seen earlier this season in the big win against UCLA. Even though Texas looked flat in its last two games, the big silver lining has to be the recent re-emergence of Pittman in the post. If Pittman plays like he did recently against Texas State and Texas Southern, that could really help alleviate the pressure being put on Damion James. It also would give the ‘Horns two legitimate options in the paint when they need it most.
This games appears to have all the makings of another classic. Expect Texas to take it to Michigan State early and often with pressure from the outside. Turnovers will be key in this game, and I really believe Texas has the team to win that important battle and the game.
Texas 82, Michigan State 75