Texas is fresh off a quality win over North Carolina on the road, and a win here gives them a quality argument for second (or even first) in the Big 12. The Longhorns lost an ugly road game at USC, but Kansas only beat the Trojans on a last possession shot in Lawrence. The Longhorns also lost in New York to a very talented Pittsburgh squad, but Barnes’ team took the Panthers down to the last possession. These guys are for real. They many not be perfect, but Jordan Hamilton is having a breakout season to accompany Tristan Thompson’s outstanding frosh campaign.
My biggest fears about Texas come from inconsistency at the helm. I like Dogus Balbay as much as anybody else, but he’s a total offensive nonfactor. Maybe he is better at facilitating the offense (he has the team’s highest assist rate), but I think unless Texas is facing a truly outstanding guard they want to shut down, Rick Barnes could drop his minutes. But if this team wins at Michigan State, they’ll have three of the most impressive wins in the conference (Illinois, North Carolina and Michigan State)--all nowhere near the state of Texas.
Keys to victory for the Longhorns:
- Jordan Hamilton needs to keep doing what he’s doing. He’s been very consistent on offense, largely thanks to better shot selection. He’ll need to keep picking his spots and not force anything, since he’s one of the reasons for Texas’ efficiency.
- Good perimeter defense: the Spartans are shooting over 40% as a team from downtown this year, and a couple of daggers on the road are all it takes for a game to get out of reach. Not to mention Michigan State has really struggled so far with turning the ball over. Until Kalin Lucas is 100% the Spartans are very vulnerable to bad turnovers.
- Stay out of foul trouble: the Longhorns will sport a nice interior advantage with Tristan Thompson in the game, but two quick fouls will neutralize it (or even turn the tables) entirely.
Neither of these teams can shoot free throws: Texas sports a poor 66.2% while Michigan State puts up a slightly worse 65.7%, which makes close games very tough to call. I’m thinking this will be close, and it will come down to Durrell Summers. He’s had another season mired by inconsistent play, but if he comes out swinging I think the Spartans will be very tough to beat. I’ll give the Spartans the edge mainly thanks to home court, but I think this one will come down to the wire.