Who: No. 5 Michigan State Spartans (8-1) vs. North Florida Ospreys (5-6)
When: 7 p.m. (BTN)
Where: Breslin Center (East Lansing, Mich.)
FUN FACT: First meeting
Tonight will be the first time in school history that MSU basketball faces North Florida. Also, the Spartans will be the third top-10 team that the Ospreys have played this season (Florida and Ohio State).
MATCHUP TO WATCH FOR: Backcourts
Michigan State sophomore shooting guard Gary Harris has been dealing with a nagging ankle injury that sidelined him in the Spartans’ 67-63 victory over Oakland last Saturday, and prior to that, the tweaked right ankle affected his play in a few of the games he was apart of.
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said that Harris is questionable for tonight’s game, and not only would a 100 percent healthy Harris be huge for a Spartan team that is lacking a premier player on the wings, but it would be a great addition for senior point guard Keith Appling who controls the fast-paced play the Spartans like to maintain for 40 minutes.
If Harris is back at 100 percent then the Spartans arguably have the best back court in the country on both ends of the floor, however, if Harris is out for the second straight game, MSU lacks a great transition player and versatile scorer as well as a top-notch defender.
North Florida rolls into East Lansing with an interesting backcourt of its own. Freshman guard Dallas Moore leads the Ospreys in scoring with 11.8 points per game and is shooting 50 percent from the 3-point line. However, Moore, who only averages 2.1 assists per game, averages 2.5 turnovers per game, and against a player like Appling — who is a tenacious defender — that could be a huge concern for North Florida.
The other guard for the Ospreys, 6-foot-8 Beau Beech, is a guy that could be a matchup problem for the Spartans if they are without Harris. Beech scored 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting against Ohio State earlier this season, however, so far this year, he’s been a volume, streaky scorer.
This matchup in the backcourt won’t be an issue if Harris is back at 100 percent, but if he’s not, and depending on what Beech shows up for North Florida, this could be an interesting duel based on the styles of play.
X-FACTOR: MSU’s Branden Dawson
Honestly, Dawson could be the x-factor for every game going forward. Izzo’s questioned his motor since he stepped on campus, and when he’s playing at a high level, and everyone is healthy, the Spartans are arguably unbeatable. However, if he takes a night off — like he did in the loss to North Carolina — the Spartans can get beaten, or taken to the final seconds, by anybody.
The Spartans don’t have consistent enough play at the center position at this point in the season for Dawson, the teams leading rebounder with 9.3 rpg, to take any games off. Izzo’s team needs Dawson to play big every night on both ends of the floor until one of the young big men opposite of Adreian Payne blossoms.
Very rarely will a player on any team in the country match Dawson’s athleticism, but it’s often Dawson that beats himself. If he play at a maximum level every night I don’t see many teams beating the Spartans, but that’s a big “if.”
PREDICTION: MSU 90, North Florida 70
If Harris plays tonight it will be because he’s 100 percent. A healthy Harris will rejuvenate Michigan State, and if that’s the case, watch out, nation.