Three Keys for Michigan State’s Trip to Texas TodayPosted by Brendan Brody on December 21st, 2013
In what many thought would be a mismatch coming into the season, Michigan State will travel to Texas today in a game that has turned into an interesting battle of one-loss teams. In beating North Carolina in Chapel Hill Wednesday night, the basketball discourse surrounding Texas has taken a turn from the topic of when will Rick Barnes get fired to one more reasonably assessing the legitimacy of the group that he has assembled in Austin this year. That said, the Longhorns have only beaten one other top 100 team (Stephen F. Austin), so this game will give us an inkling as to whether Texas should be taken seriously. Michigan State has a good deal of question marks itself due to health problems and that the Spartans have come back to earth after strong start to the season. What follows are three keys for Michigan State to come away with the win later today (4:00 PM EST, CBS).
- Take advantage of Texas’ Perimeter Defense. This will much easier if Gary Harris comes back strong from his ankle injury, as he will probably be the biggest key if he’s in the lineup. Right now, Michigan State really does not have much in the way of depth, so the return of one of the best players in the B1G obviously adds to that. It’s also important because Texas doesn’t do a great job in defending the three. The Longhorns are ranked 250th in the country in three-point defense, so with Harris back in action they’ll be able to find more spots to take advantage of this. Keith Appling has shot the ball really well this year too, but Travis Trice could play a huge role. He’s shooting 39.4 percent from deep, and if he gets some open looks with Texas paying more attention to Appling and/or Harris, he has a chance to blow up his 7.0 PPG average.
- Rebound like the Michigan State of Old. On the other end of the court, the Spartans are going to have to limit Texas’ ability to crash the offensive boards. Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson will both need to go for double-figure rebounds in order to come away with the road win. Texas destroyed North Carolina to the tune of a 42.4 percent offensive rebounding rate on Wednesday, just a tick above a very strong 38.9 percent for the year. They will come at Sparty in waves with four players averaging over 5.5 RPG, so the more times Michigan State can hold Texas to a single shot, the better off they will be.
- Have Someone New Step Forward. The last thing Michigan State is going to have to do is to get some new production from their bench. Whether it’s Gavin Schilling, Russell Byrd, Alvin Ellis III or someone else, the Spartans will not be the force that everyone thought they could be if they can’t get some production from the reserves. Texas generally plays nine players, so someone from the bench needs to step up to offset the bodies that Texas will throw at them. With or without Harris in the lineup, they simply can’t just be a Big Three of Harris, Appling and Payne if they expect to win this game. Schilling especially has both the combination of skills and opportunity (Matt Costello is expected to be out) to make a statement that he could be a key contributor once league play begins.