Austin, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - Fresh off their biggest win of the season, the Texas Longhorns will try to play the role of giant slayer once more as they entertain the fifth-ranked Michigan State Spartans in a non-conference clash at the Frank Erwin Center on Saturday afternoon.
Michigan State had been the top-ranked team in the nation after it knocked off then No. 1 Kentucky in Chicago back in early November, and the team had streaked out to a 7-0 start before suffering a 79-65 loss to North Carolina on Dec. 4. The Spartans have since reeled off two more wins, topping the likes of Oakland and North Florida to sit at 9-1. This is MSU's first true road game of the campaign, and the squad will play one more tuneup (vs. New Orleans) before beginning Big Ten play at Penn State on New Year's Eve.
Texas played at North Carolina on Wednesday night, and stunned the 14th-ranked Tar Heels in an 86-83 final. The win, the sixth straight for the Longhorns, was by far their biggest of the season, and if they can pull off another upset they will surely find themselves ranked rather highly in next week's AP poll. UT is a perfect 7-0 at home this season, and this game begins a three-game run in Austin, the finale of which takes place on Jan. 4 and is its Big 12 opener against Oklahoma.
The all-time series between Michigan State and Texas is knotted at 4-4, and this is the seventh meeting in the last eight years. Each game has been decided by 12 points or less, and it was the Spartans who claimed victory last season in a 67-56 triumph in East Lansing.
Michigan State has had very little trouble imposing its will at both ends of the court, as it averages 81.1 ppg behind a Big Ten-best .485 field goal percentage. The 3-pointer is falling at a 37.2 percent clip, while foes are netting just 65.8 ppg in hitting 38.2 percent of their total shots, which includes a 30.1 percent showing from beyond the arc. Add favorable margins in both rebounding (+4.3) and turnovers (+2.7) and it's easy to see why the team is off to such a tremendous start. Gary Harris leads the way in scoring with his 17.6 ppg, while Adreian Payne and Keith Appling are close behind with 16.6 and 16.0 ppg, respectively. Payne grabs 7.9 rpg, which ranks him second to Branden Dawson's 9.2 rpg. Dawson nets 10.2 ppg, and it shouldn't surprise anyone to see him averaging a double-double at some point this season. Appling hands out 5.0 apg.
The Spartans controlled their recent outing against North Florida from the opening tip, putting four players in double figures led by Payne and his 19 points. MSU, which won the game by 30 points (78-48), shot 52.9 percent from the floor, while holding the Ospreys to a mere 29.6 percent. UNF missed 21 of its 25 3-point tries. The Spartans won the game easily despite a miserable night at the foul line (20-of-38).
Like its counterpart today, Texas has had very little trouble putting points on the scoreboard, netting 79.5 ppg behind typical shooting efforts of .444 overall and .347 from beyond the arc. The 'Horns have pounded the glass to the tune of a resounding +9.7 rebounding margin, and they have been highly effective in limiting the opposition to a field goal percentage of .392, although their 3-point tries are finding the bottom of the net 36.3 percent of the time. Texas boasts four double-digit scorers, although it relies more on balance than one or two star players controlling the action. Jonathan Holmes paces the group with 13.1 ppg, while Isaiah Taylor turns in 12.1 ppg, Demarcus Holland 11.4 ppg and Javan Felix 10.9 ppg. Cameron Ridley and Holmes combine for 14.7 of the team's 44.5 rpg, while Taylor and Felix gang up to dish out 6.8 of its 12.4 apg.
Taylor hit for 16 points, Holmes and Holland added 15 apiece, and Felix chipped in a dozen as Texas upset North Carolina earlier in the week in Chapel Hill. The Longhorns dropped only 40.3 percent of their total shots, but were almost as effective from long range (8-of-21, .381), while logging a 51-42 rebounding differential. Additionally, the Tar Heels were limited to 38.5 percent field goal efficiency, and they went just 24-of-47 (.511) from the charity stripe.