Preview: Michigan State Spartans vs. Texas Longhorns

Your MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY SPARTANS vs.
THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS LONGHORNS

THE FRANK ERWIN CENTER, AUSTIN, TEXAS
7:00 P.M. (ET), TUESDAY
TV: ESPN2 (Jay Bilas!)

Longhorn bullets:

  • 2008-09: Overall record of 23-12, 9-7 in Big 12 play, lost to Duke 74-69 in second round of NCAA Tournament, KenPom ranking of #23.
  • Returned 3 of 5 starters; A.J. Abrams and Connor Atchley graduated.  But 7 of top 9 players by minutes played last season returned, and 3-4 freshmen are making significant contributions.  This is a very deep team.
  • Plus they now have 5'10" guard Jai Lucas (a transfer from Florida) lurking on the bench.
  • Record of 10-0 to date this season.  Average margin of victory of 29.8 points/game.  Coming off 103-90 win over North Carolina (in a stupendous 88-possession game).  Other quasi-quality win is a 16-point victory over Pitt on a neutral court.
  • MSU leads all-time series 3-2, having beaten Texas in each of the last three nonconference seasons.  (Heroes: Neitzel, Lucas, Summers.  Final entry on the list displayed in Youtube gloriousness in Fanshot below.)

In case you skimmed past the part about how deep this Texas team is:

Pos Player Height Year Min/G Pts/G 2pt% 3pt% FT% Reb/G Ast/G
G Dogus Balbay 6'1" Jr 23.0 4.3 0.586 0.111 0.429 4.1 4.9
G Avery Bradley 6'2" Fr 24.5 11.9 0.493 0.407 0.519 1.4 2.2
G J'Covan Brown 6'1" Fr 23.1 13.1 0.529 0.348 0.971 3.0 2.4
F Damion James 6'7" Sr 26.7 16.4 0.549 0.370 0.677 10.6 1.0
C Dexter Pittman 6'10" Sr 19.6 14.6 0.734 -- 0.545 7.1 0.6
                     
G Justin Mason 6'2" Sr 17.5 2.6 0.467 0.143 0.563 2.1 1.6
G Varez Ward 6'2" So 23.0 6.7 0.500 0.167 0.500 3.0 0.7
G/F Jordan Hamilton 6'7" Fr 19.1 9.8 0.469 0.341 0.636 4.3 1.6
F Gary Johnson 6'6" Jr 17.2 6.3 0.605 1.000 0.778 4.0 0.6
F/C Alexis Wangmene 6'7" So 11.6 3.8 0.615 0.000 0.600 2.9 0.2

(Notes: Ward has only played 3 games since returning from before suffering an injury.  [Corrected per PB's comment below.]  Gary Johnson has only attempted one 3-pointer.)

The Longhorns' depth ratio through 10 games is 1.78--which is sort of the functional equivalent of having two starting lineups.

Beyond fawning all over the length of Rick Barnes' bench, I'm going to keep the non-bulleted portion of this game preview relatively short.  A lot of ground has already been covered in the questions and answers that Peter Bean and I exchanged.

When I look at Texas' tempo-free profile, I feel a lot like I did ahead of the two games vs. North Carolina last season: They're like us--but even more so.  They're deep, play at the kind of break-neck pace Kalin Lucas and Korie Lucious dream of, score very efficiently around the basket, and crash the glass.  On defense, they've been downright stingy, holding opponents to an effective field goal percentage of just 36.9%.  Even controlling for a fairly pedestrian pre-UNC nonconference slate, the Longhorns rank #1 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency.

And I've only scratched the surface here.  Texas actually ranks in the top 50 nationally in 7 of the 8 four factor categories (everything but defensive turnover percentage, although they've got a healthy defensive steal percentage of 13.9%--so they do have some disruptive ability).

If you're going to pin your hopes on anything on the Texas side of the statistical equation, it's that they've improved in 6 of those 7 top-50 categories over their performance from last season.  (I'd speculate that this phenomenon may be partially driven by the same thing that happened when Drew Neitzel graduated in 2008.  As great as A.J. Abrams was, working so hard to get him open jumpshots--something Travis Walton put a stop to for most of last year's game--may have detracted from using the team's other weapons in a more cohesive and effective manner.)

Given that this is a pretty young Texas team (particularly in terms of perimeter scoring), a reversion to/past the mean resulting from a couple shaky underclassmen performances isn't out of the realm of possibilities.  Oh, and they don't shoot free throws well (62.5%)--although that's kind of hard to build a defensive game plan around.

Offensively, I think we need a lot of pieces to come together.  Delvon Roe has to make Dexter Pittman work on the defensive end.  Raymar Morgan has to play confidently but intelligently.  He doesn't need to outscore Damion James; he just needs to make it a fair fight.  Oh, and we need more than one guard knocking down 3-pointers.

OK, I'm basically repeating myself.  So I'll just go ahead and finish by being explicitly repetitive:

Frankly, I think a lot of things are going to have to go right for MSU to win this game.  It sure looks to me like Texas can match our team speed and has two players in Pittman and James that will give us fits around the basket on both ends of the court.  This game represents MSU's last chance to post a big nonconference win away from home.  If such a win is achieved, it will have been fully earned.

P.S. KenPom says Texas wins 85-66 in 77 possessions.  But who cares what some fancy arithmetic says, right?  Players play.  Tough players win.

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