Previewing MSU at Texas

USA TODAY Sports

Apologies for site problems throughout the day.

MSU's first true road game comes Saturday when the Spartans travel to Texas in what is pretty much an annual series. It's the seventh time in eight years the teams are playing each other.

Five of the eight games have been on a neutral court. Texas is 1-0 in Austin, and all eight games have been decided by 12 points or fewer.

The Longhorns come into this game at 10-1 and ranked No. 56 in KenPom. Before Wednesday, they had lost to their only notable opponent, BYU, on a neutral site. But then they went into Chapel Hill and came out with an 86-83 win, so it's time to take this Texas team seriously, even if it's a schizophrenic North Carolina team.

This Texas team actually has the same look as UNC, and we know how that went for MSU. It's a long team that does well on the glass, plays good defense and can't shoot free throws worth a lick.

Offensively, the Longhorns are No. 126 in adjO. They're not a great shooting team: 34.5 percent on 3s (No. 143) and 47.6 percent on 2s (No. 208). Only 25 percent of Texas shot attempts come from 3, so this is a team that takes it inside a lot. They hold on to the ball pretty well and frequently get to the free-throw line, with a FTR of 49.6 (No. 50). But when they get to the line, they make just 61.4 percent of free throws, No. 333 nationally.

Jonathan Holmes leads the Longhorns with 13.1 points per game, as well as 7.1 rebounds and nearly two blocks. He's also 14-for-29 from 3-point range. He's one of three Texas players with an OR% better than 12.0. The other among main contributors is a big man Cameron Ridley (6-foot-9, 285). He averages 9.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.8 blocks. Point guard Isaiah Taylor averages 12.1 points and 3.7 assists. Demarcus Holland averages 11.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.

Defensively, Texas is much better, at No. 26 in adjD. Opponents shoot just 40.9 percent on 2s (No. 11), but they make 36.4 percent of shots from behind the arc (No. 250). We know that three-point defense is basically luck, and MSU likes to take a lot of shots from there. Texas is average in forcing turnovers and fouling.

On the glass is where Texas makes its living. The Longhorns grab 38.9 percent of misses (No. 25), while opponents get just 27.2 percent (No. 32). This will be a big key for MSU. Long teams like Kentucky and North Carolina have pounded MSU on the glass.

MSU has been good on the defensive glass (No. 47), but their OR% of 31.1 is MSU's lowest in the KenPom era. They've made up for it by holding onto the ball. Matt Costello will not be making the trip. I'm not sure Izzo trusts Gavin Schilling or Alex Gauna enough to give them a lot of time, so Adreian Payne will probably be playing a lot of center. Payne and Dawson's rebounding might be the most important key for MSU. I would expect Gary Harris to play.

KenPom predicts a 73-72 win, giving MSU a 56 percent chance. I think I'm picking Texas. MSU's struggles on the glass coupled with all the injuries do not bode well.

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