The No. 4 Texas Longhorns face their second major challenge this month on the road Saturday against No. 9 Michigan State. The teams tip off at 6:30 p.m. EST at the Palace at Auburn Hills. Michigan State is the third Top 10 team Texas will play this year.
The Longhorns are coming in with a record of 11-0, having defeated a scrappy Oral Roberts team Tuesday night 66-56. This year's Texas squad is off to the best start in school history since the 1981-82 season, partly because they haven't trailed at halftime in any game this season.
The Spartans are coming into Saturday's showdown riding a seven game winning streak after drubbing San Jose State last night 85-45 to improve to 10-1.
This is the second consecutive season the Longhorns and Spartans have matched up. Last season Michigan State defeated Texas 63-61 in the College Hoops Classic at Madison Square Garden. It was a heartbreaking loss for the Longhorns as they watched Spartans' point guard Drew Neitzel drive down the lane and score the winning basket with 2.4 seconds left.
On Saturday Texas will be looking to return the favor.
This season Texas is proving to be a road warrior. The Longhorns have played four road games on either the opponent's home court or at a neutral site. In those games against New Mexico State, Tennessee, UCLA, and Rice, Texas averaged 85 points while holding them to 70. The Longhorns also held those four teams to a collective shooting average of 42 percent.
The keys for Texas to win on Saturday are to keep feeding the ball to forwards Connor Atchley (12.9 pts./5.6 rebs.) and Damion James (11.5 pts./9.9 rebs.) in the post, continue to find ways for guard A.J. Abrams to get open shots, and for point guard D.J. Augustin to penetrate the paint and draw fouls.
The Longhorns are going need smart play and quality minutes from the rotation of backup forwards Alexis Wangmene, Clint Chapman, and Dexter Pittman because Tom Izzo's teams are always disciplined and physical, and rebound well. The Spartans average 41 rebounds per game, their two best rebounders being forward Raymar Morgan (7.4/game) and center Goran Suton (8.5/game).
Defensively, just like in the UCLA game, Texas has to win the boards and prevent Michigan State from getting offensive rebounds. Most importantly the Longhorns need to keep constant pressure on the Spartans, especially when they bring the ball up the court. If there is any weakness for this Spartans team it's that they commit nearly 15 turnovers a game.
If the Longhorns play Saturday with the same poise and confidence they've showcased this season, and are able to out-rebound Michigan State and contain Neitzel, they will walk out of the Palace the winner.
This game will be a good test for Texas to see how they match up against a strong physical Big 10 team because the Longhorns will play host to another one: Wisconsin, on Dec. 29.