The Michigan State Spartans will obviously want to duplicate the end result of last year’s campaign as a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament, but they certainly do not want to repeat last season’s early mishaps by starting 0-2 again. With a loss to the UConn Huskies a few nights ago in Germany, Tom Izzo and crew now only have one option if they want to avoid history repeating itself: beat the #7 Kansas Jayhawks in Atlanta tonight.
Kansas comes in to this game as a 3.5 point favorite after looking relatively impressive in their win against Southeast Missouri State the other night. Led by big man James Withey, Kansas rolled to a victory by dominating in the frontcourt. Rock Chalk Jayhawk also played stout defense in front of their home fans at The Phog, denying their opponent from shooting over 30 percent.
Michigan State certainly needs to improve in a variety of places from the Connecticut game if they are going to win tonight. Experience in the front court seemed to make little difference for the Spartans, with Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne combining for 7 turnovers and scoring only a combined 12 points. Freshman Gary Harris, the second best shooting guard recruit in the nation, will have to improve on his 4-13 shooting performance from a few nights ago if the Spartans hope to pull out a victory.
The task ahead for the Spartans certainly is a daunting one, but not just because of their opponent. After playing a game at 2 a.m. local time in Germany, the MSU arrived back in East Lansing late last night after a 9 hour plane ride. Following a walk through the next morning, Sparty flew down to Atlanta late yesterday night and are expected to give 100 percent come tip tonight. If the jet lag they've experienced isn’t a factor for the Green and White this game, then distractions the rest of the season should be a cake walk.
What may pose the biggest problem for the Spartans though is the health of their sixth man: Travis Trice. After being elbowed in the head during the game against UConn, Trice has been experiencing concussion-like symptoms and will be out for the game tonight. That’s bad news for a team that had only 7 bench points with Trice in the lineup in the game overseas.
The problem with Trice’s injury is more than just a lack of depth in the backcourt. Trice is what basketball fans call a “pure 1” or “true point guard”, which is something that starters Gary Harris and Keith Appling cannot claim. Trice can control tempo, is a better ball handler, and can “quarterback” the offense in a way that cannot be replicated on this year’s Spartan lineup, and his presence in tonight’s game will be missed.
Still, this isn’t going to be any kind of “David versus Goliath” matchup. Kansas looked like it gravely missed the leadership and presence of lottery-pick Thomas Robinson and guard Tyshawn Taylor. Not only did the Jayhawks shoot terribly from the perimeter at a woeful 2-21 clip, they had a less than stellar assist to turnover ratio of .92 that was directly related to a good deal of lazy entry passes thrown in by the guards to the low-post. The Jayhawks will look to senior guard Elijah Johnson to step up his game in the backcourt and avoid these costly mistakes.
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. EST on ESPN.
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