MSU Basketball: Spartans vs. Longhorns Preview

On Saturday, the No. 5 injury-laden Michigan State Spartans (9-1) will make their way Austin, Texas to take on the Texas Longhorns (10-1).

Tip-off is schedule for 4:00 PM EST and will be televised on CBS.

Saturday’s contest will serve as the seventh meeting between the two schools in the past eight seasons, with the Spartans holding a 4-2 advantage in the previous six match ups, including taking last years’ game by a score of 67-56 in East Lansing.

Much of the concern on the Michigan State side rests on the injuries this team has had to endure thus far this season, with forward Matt Costello currently out 2-3 weeks with a case of mononucleosis, star shooting guard Gary Harris missing the last two games with a nagging ankle injury and back up point guard Travis Trice sitting out the last contest with blisters on his feet.

MSU sophomore guard Gary Harris getting instruction from Coach Izzo. Harris hasn't played since Dec. 4 against UNC. (AP Photo)

MSU sophomore guard Gary Harris getting instruction from Coach Izzo. Harris hasn’t played since Dec. 4 against UNC. (AP Photo)

Add in a case of plantar fasciitis  for Adreian Payne and a sore shooting wrist and hip-pointer for Keith Appling, who have both been playing through their injuries, and there is no question this MSU basketball team is scrambling.

Come Saturday though, everyone is expected to be out on the floor for Michigan State, with the exception of Costello, who won’t be making the trip to Texas, according to MSU head basketball coach Tom Izzo.

However, as for the Spartans’ next opponent, Texas, the Longhorns should be giving them even more cause for concern.

Texas comes into this game riding hot, winners of six straight, including an 86-83 victory on the road at North Carolina on Wednesday, a team that gave Michigan State fits in East Lansing a few weeks ago on Dec. 4th, when the Tar Heels tore apart the Spartans, 79-65, right in front of their hometown crowd.

As for how these two teams appear to match up, both teams are extremely balanced, with the four players averaging in double figures for the Spartans, and nearly five for the Longhorns.

The back court would normally look to swing in the Spartans advantage, with the skills of both Harris (17.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and Appling (16.0 ppg, 5.0 apg) a significant tier above the inexperienced Longhorn guards of Isaiah Taylor (12.1 ppg, 3.7 apg), Demarcus Holland (11.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Javan Felix (10.9 ppg). But with the injury problems to both Harris and Appling, the Texas back court may be able to draw even in this match up.

Where this game might be decided though, and where the match up to watch can be found is in the front court. With Costello out, much of the front court duties for the Spartans will be placed upon the shoulders of Branden Dawson (10.2 ppg, 9.1 rpg) and Payne (16.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg).

Texas big men Jonathan Holmes (13.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.8 bpg), Cameron Ridley (9.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 2.8 bpg) and Prince Ibeh (5.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.3 bpg) all are capable of pulling down a lot of boards and blocking a lot of shots. As a team the Longhorns haul in 44 boards and block 8 shots a game, potentially giving them a bit of an advantage on the inside over Michigan State.

And as uncharacteristic as it is of an Izzo team, the Spartans have, at times, struggled a bit with rebounding this season, so figuring things out down low with be a major factor in whether or not Michigan State is going to be able to come out on top on Saturday.