The rivalry between the Big 12 and Big Ten kicks up this weekend, when the Texas Longhorns travel to the Breslin Center in East Lansing to take on the Michigan State Spartans.
Texas will be on an emotional high coming into this game after a dominating victory over North Carolina on Wednesday night. The Longhorns (7-4) have been inconsistent to start the season, though that is to be expected considering how young the roster is.
Michigan State is one of those teams that doesn't dominate in any one area of the game, but it manages to do all the little things necessary to win. Head coach Tom Izzo has done one of his best coaching jobs this season, and the team will look to end non-conference play on a six-game winning streak.
Where: Breslin Center in East Lansing, Mich.
When: Saturday, Dec. 22 at 2 p.m. ET
Watch: ESPN 2
Live Stream: Watch ESPN
What's at Stake?
Texas is growing up right before our very eyes. After an embarrassing loss against Chaminade on Nov. 19, the Longhorns have gone 5-3, including a huge 18-point win at home against North Carolina. This game will be the test they need to see just how far they have come in the last month.
Michigan State is on the verge of conference play, which is going to be an arduous journey with nine games against teams currently ranked in the Top 10. The Spartans need all the momentum and confidence they can get before that schedule kicks in.
Texas Injury Report (via USA Today)
Questionable: Forward Jaylen Bond (Foot)
Out: Guard Myck Kabongo (Eligibility)
North Carolina Injury Report (via USA Today)
What They're Saying
Even though the Spartans find themselves in the Top 25, they have hardly been impressive. With the exception of a victory over Kansas in the second game of the season, this team is struggling, particularly on offense.
Things have gotten so dire that even Bowling Green was able to hang with the Spartans in a game earlier this week. They had to pull away late, but it was yet another sign of just how flawed Izzo's team is right now.
The head coach is aware of what is wrong with his team, telling reporters (via Detroit Free Press) that he is doing everything he can think of to right the ship in a hurry.
Rome wasn't built overnight. but we have to start taking some serious steps forward.
Name it, I'm trying to get it. Better shooting, better screening, better fast break, more cut-outs ...
What makes Izzo so great is his ability to identify the weaknesses of his own team, then hiding them as best he can. He is talking like a coach whose teams is flirting with .500, yet the Spartans are still 10-2 before heading into conference play.
Texas Player to Watch: G Julien Lewis
Texas doesn't have a lot of shooters on the roster. Lewis is not a great overall shooter, though he has improved his field-goal percentage from 36.1 to 43.7 and is averaging nearly 12 points per game.
The best part of Lewis' game is his ability to shoot from beyond the arc. He is shooting over 38 percent from three-point range, which will be critical for the Longhorns against a team that is usually very stingy on defense.
Lewis is coming off a strong effort against North Carolina in which he scored 16 points, grabbed three rebounds and added three steals. He needs to have another game like that to keep the young Longhorns in this game.
Michigan State Player to Watch: C Adreian Payne
The one area where Texas and Michigan State excel is rebounding. Both teams rank in the top 30 in that category entering this game. The Spartans are led by their junior center, who has become a much more vital part of the offensive game plan this season.
Payne is rarely asked to do a lot in games, at least with the ball in his hands, but when he does get a shot, he usually hits it. He is shooting a career-best 59.4 percent from the field.
But as mentioned before, rebounding is the key to this game, and Payne is much more physical and comfortable in the box than he used to be. His defensive acumen gives Michigan State a decided advantage on the inside.
In a classic matchup of age vs. youth, you have to give the advantage to Michigan State in this spot. Playing at home, coming off a narrow win against Bowling Green, will have this team motivated to give the crowd something to cheer about.
Michigan State 64, Texas 57