Michigan State has recorded wins over Idaho 100-62, at IPFW 70-59, Oklahoma State 94-79 in Orlando, Wichita State 65-56 in Orlando, Bradley 75-59, Alcorn State 118-60 and most recently The Citadel 79-65.
The Longhorns have been riding tremendous performances by A.J. Abrams in the last four games, all wins. In the quartet of games, Abrams is averaging 28.5 points connecting on 18 of 33 three-pointers and 28 of 33 free throws.
The Longhorns will need more than the scoring of Abrams on Saturday, however. The play of Damion James, Connor Atchley, Dexter Pittman, Gary Johnson and Clint Chapman rebounding the ball and closing off the easy scores around the basket will likely be the key to the game.
Texas faces their toughest task to date on the glass against a physical, strong and quick leaping combination of center and forwards. The Spartans are a team that can punish the opponent on the glass relentlessly if not blocked out.
Saturday's tip is set for 1pm central and will be televised on CBS.
A Look at the Coaches
Rick Barnes, who is in his eleventh season at Texas, coaches the Longhorns. Barnes has a career record of 458-228, including 256-94 at Texas. Barnes is 16-10 in NCAA Tournament games at Texas.
Tom Izzo is in his 14th year as the head coach of the Spartans and is widely considered on the top college coaches in the game. Izzo has career record of 312-132 at Michigan State, including the national title in 1999-2000 and a record of 26-9 in the NCAA Tournament.
A Look at the Numbers
Texas shoots 45.6% from the field, 38.8% from three and 61.2% from the free-throw line.
The Spartans convert 48.5% overall, 36.6% from the three-point line and 65.3% from the foul line.
The Longhorns surrender just 37.9% shooting and own a +4.2 rebound advantage.
Michigan State gives up 41.6% defensively and checks in with a +8.0 rebounding margin.
The Longhorns are committing 12.9 turnovers per game, while Michigan State is turning the ball over 14.6 times per contest.
The Longhorn Starters
G Justin Mason 6-2 Jr. (7.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.6 assists)
G A.J. Abrams 5-10 Sr. (20.9 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.5 steals)
F Damion James 6-7 Jr. (14.0 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.1 blocks)
F Connor Atchley 6-11 Sr. (6.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.8 blocks)
C Dexter Pittman 6-10 Jr. (8.6 points, 4.0 rebounds)
Key reserves include 6-7 sophomore Gary Johnson (8.4 points, 6.4 rebounds), 6-1 freshman Varez Ward (3.9 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists) and 6-10 sophomore Clint Chapman (2.1 points, 2.3 rebounds) and 6-0 sophomore Dogus Balbay.
The Spartan Starters
G Kalin Lucas 5-11 So. (11.0 points and 6.8 assists)
G Travis Walton 6-2 Sr. (6.8 points, 2.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists)
F Raymar Morgan 6-8 Jr. (16.9 points, 5.7 rebounds)
F Delvon Roe 6-8 Fr. (6.2 points and 5.6 rebounds)
C Idong Ibok 6-11 Sr. (0.3 points and 1.1 rebounds)
Key reserves are 6-3 sophomore Chris Allen (121. Points, 3.0 rebounds), 6-4 sophomore Durrell Summers (8.8 points, 3.8 rebounds), 6-10 senior Goran Suton (5.7 points, 5.7 rebounds) and 6-8 senior Marquise Gray (6.2 points, 4.9 rebounds).
Keys to the Game
Number one on the list Saturday afternoon is going to be rebounding the ball. Michigan State will be the most physical team around the glass that Texas has faced. Along with big bodied, powerful rebounders is an array of lean leapers that can be big trouble on the offensive glass if Texas doesn't concentrate on boxing out.
Michigan State will run set after set in the half court and really enjoys throwing bodies around screening and playing a physical brand of basketball inside 10 to 12 feet. The Texas big men will have to show on down screens to keep Michigan State from making simple curl cuts. That also means the Longhorn big men will be faced with a quick recovery, which is simple for Atchley. For Pittman, that is and has been a challenge against quality opponents.
Texas has to return to the ball pressure defense and rotation they slapped on opponents in the first handful of games this year. Mason and Balbay have to keep the pressure on Lucas, but can't jump and guard so tight that Lucas' quickness advantage creates straight line drives.
Chris Allen is the top catch and shoot player on the Spartan's roster from outside of 17 feet, so he must be accounted for at all times. Durrell Summers has hit 11 of 20 from three this year, so one must close out under control and get a hand in the face. Raymar Morgan is very good in the mid-range and around 10 to 12 feet.
Offensively, the Longhorns must force the issue and push the ball when Pittman isn't in the game. Michigan State is much more comfortable in the half court than in transition. The Longhorns have to look to advance the ball up the sidelines quickly and get the State big men running. If the game is strictly in the half court, the rebounding and scoring advantage goes to Michigan State.
This is a game in which Atchley has the chance to pull a big man away from the basket and should get a few long range opportunities if Mason and Abrams get the ball to him with the correct timing off of ball screens.
The last two games, Dexter Pittman has had a decided height and strength advantage on the offensive end without having to defend on the perimeter for the most part. Saturday, he won't be able to catch the ball against a physical and strong Spartans team and just score. He will have to feel the defender on his body and make a scoring move accordingly. Defensively, look for Michigan State to push more when Pittman is in the game and tire the big man out as he struggles in transition defense.
Gary Johnson has struggled defensively in recent games and thus his minutes and production have fallen off. Johnson must defend in the half court and in transition and rebound the ball Saturday. If he scores 10 or more it's a bonus, but he must defend and rebound.
If the game is tight late, Lucas, Allen and Morgan all shoot better than 70% from the line. In no way should Marquise Gray and Delvon Roe be allowed to finish around the rim without being fouled and sent to the line to shoot. Neither has made free throws this year. Travis Walton has struggled from the line, so he can be fouled if he is in the game late.