Lace ‘Em Up: MSU v. UM Basketball Preview

The ESPN cameras and the Izzone should be rocking Thursday night when Tommy Amaker's Michigan Wolverines make their 2005 visit to the Breslin Center. SpartansInsider.com's <b>Doug Warren</b> continues to provides exculsively the best analysis online. Here is the breakdown of both squads, as well as what to expect from both teams come tip-off.

THE MATCHUP:
#15 Michigan State Spartans versus Michigan Wolverines
Date: Thursday, January 27
Time: 7 p.m.

Michigan Wolverines (Record: 12-7, 3-2 Big Ten)

The Wolverines have been the basketball equivalent of a M.A.S.H unit this season in regards to health. Going into last Saturday's game versus Wisconsin, Michigan had lost 65 total games due to injury. The most severe loss has been Junior Forward Lester Abram, who is out for the year following shoulder surgery. The Wolverines have had 10 different starting lineups in the first 17 games. In fact, the Maize and Blue has not had a full complement of players in any game this season.

Late in last Saturday's Wisconsin game, Guard Daniel Horton went down with what appeared to be a right knee injury. If so, it would be his second such injury of the year. He injured his left knee early in the season, and spent most of December recovering on the bench. In addition to his on-the-court troubles, Horton was arraigned this past Monday on a charge of domestic violence for allegedly choking his girlfriend last month. He turned himself into police, was released on $5,000 bond, and will be allowed to leave the state to play basketball while the case is pending. If convicted of the misdemeanor charge, Horton could face up to three months in jail and a $500 fine. As of this writing, it remains up in the air as to whether Horton will suit-up Thursday.

With that in mind, here is Michigan's tentative lineup:

Wolverine Probable Starters
4 Daniel Horton G JR 6-3 205
5 Dion Harris G SO 6-3
205 24 Ron Coleman W FR 6-6 210
25 Graham Brown F/C JR 6-9 255
44 Courtney Sims F SO 6-11

245 Wolverine Bench Notables
11 John Andrews W SO 6-5 205
22 Sherrod Harrell G JR 6-3
200 23 Brent Petway F SO 6-8 205
31 Chris Hunter F JR 6-11 225
32 J.C. Mathis F 5th-SR 6-8
235 50 Amadou Ba C JR 6-10 250

WOLVERINE TEAM STATS
(through 19 games) MICH OPP
SCORING 1246 1176
Points per game 65.6 61.9
FIELD GOALS-ATT 447-1000 421-1056
Field goal pct. .447 .399 3 POINT FG-ATT 97-311 110-334
3-point FG pct. .312 .329
3-pt FG made per game 5.1 5.8
FREE THROWS-ATT 255-343 224-318
Free throw pct. .743 .704
REBOUNDS 645 636
Rebounds per game 33.9 33.5
Rebounding margin +.04
ASSISTS 249 255
Assists per game 13.1 13.4
TURNOVERS 283 271
Turnovers per game 14.9 14.3
Turnover margin 0.9 0.9
STEALS 112 114
Steals per game 5.9 6.0
BLOCKS 89 60
Blocks per game 4.7 3.2

WOLVERINE STRENGTHS: Free-Throw Shooting, Shot Blocking, and Size

Michigan is capitalizing on free throw shooting this season. Going into the Wisconsin game, they had outscored their opponents by 45 points from the charity stripe. Through their first 19 games, Michigan shot 243-for-324 (75.0 percent) in free throw shooting compared to its opponents' 198-for-285 (69.5 percent).
As of last Saturday, Brent Petway and Courtney Sims were currently tied for the team lead in blocked shots with 29 each. To that point, the sophomore duo had accounted for 72.5 percent (58) of Michigan's block total of 80. As a team, Michigan has out-blocked its opponents by an 80-to-59 margin.
Michigan size is substantial, with Sims (6-11), Chris Hunter (6-11), Graham Brown (6-9), Pettway (6-8), and Ron Coleman (6-6) taking up space in the paint. These five players have combined to average 41.8 PPG and 26.2 RPG for the Wolverines this season.
Graham Brown has continued to be a force down low for the Wolverines since his return from hernia surgery three games ago. He has averaged 7.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 30.7 minutes over the last three games. He is also shooting 52.9 percent from the floor.
WOLVERINE WEAKNESSES: Very Streaky Shooting

Michigan lives and dies by the performance of their starting guards, Junior PG Horton and Sophomore SG Dion Harris. In last weekend's Wisconsin loss the duo combined for 32 points, but shot just 31.4 percent from the floor. In Michigan's last two Big Ten losses (Wisconsin and @ Indiana); Horton and Harris have combined to shoot under 25 percent from the floor in the second half. They must perform well Thursday if the Wolverines are to pull the upset.

#15 MICHIGAN STATE (Record: 12-3, 4-1 Big Ten)

Michigan State moved up four spots to No. 15 in The Associated Press poll after beating Purdue (71-64) and Minnesota (62-59) last week off the heels of their late-game collapse at the hands of Wisconsin (62-59) back on Jan. 16. The Spartans have now won 9-of-10 games and look to continue their winning ways against their arch-rivals from Ann Arbor.

Spartan Probable Starters
3 Shannon Brown G/F SO 6-4 200
5 Chris Hill G SR 6-3 190
13 Maurice Ager G JR 6-5 195
15 Alan Anderson F SR 6-6 220
40 Paul Davis C JR 6-11 255

Spartan Bench Notables
12 Drew Neitzel G FR 6-0 170
20 Matt Trannon F JR 6-6 217
23 Kelvin Torbert G SR 6-4 215
30 Tim Bograkos G RS-SR 6-2 195
34 Drew Naymick C SO 6-10 235
50 Delco Rowley F RS-SO 6-8 250

SPARTAN TEAM STATS
(through 15 games) MSU OPP
SCORING 1212 929
Points per game 80.8 61.9
FIELD GOALS-ATT 420-845 324-778
Field goal pct. .497 .416
3 POINT FG-ATT 113-289 95-269
3-point FG pct. .391 .353
3-pt FG made per game 7.5 6.3
FREE THROWS-ATT 259-321 186-289
Free throw pct. .807 .644
REBOUNDS 544 430
Rebounds per game 36.3 28.7
Rebounding margin +7.6
ASSISTS 266 176
Assists per game 17.7 11.7
TURNOVERS 211 252
Turnovers per game 14.1 16.8
Turnover margin +2.7
STEALS 120 102
Steals per game 8.0 6.8
BLOCKS 44 37
Blocks per game 2.9 2.5

SPARTAN STRENGTHS: Balanced Scoring and Ball Protection

The Spartans continue to spread the ball around offensively, with five players averaging in double figures this season (Ager 13.9, Davis 12.8, Anderson 12.0, Brown 11.9 and Torbert 10.3). As a team, Michigan State is shooting .497 (420-845) from the floor overall and .391 (113-289) from behind the arc. They also are among the Big Ten leaders in free-throw percentage at .807 (259-321).
The Michigan State point guard duo of Chris Hill and Drew Neitzel have done a terrific job of protecting the rock this season, combining for an assist-to-turnover margin +69 (111-42) and a collective 7.4 assists-per-game.
SPARTAN WEAKNESSES: Killer Instinct and Inside Punch behind Paul Davis

Michigan State has often struggled in big games to put away teams when the opportunity presents itself. Much of that can be traced to a lack of aggressiveness and/or confidence amongst the team's elder statesmen. Since the Wisconsin defeat, Junior Maurice Ager and Sophomore Shannon Brown have noticeably stepped up to fill the void, however this team still has yet to win a big game on the road. Until they accomplish that feat, the doubts about their ability to do so will remain.

The Spartans' lack of an inside post presence behind Paul Davis remains a problem, as his primary backups, redshirt sophomore Forward Delco Rowley and sophomore Center Drew Naymick, have combined to average just 5.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, and just 1.6 blocks-per-game this season. While the arrival of Spartan-footballer Matt Trannon has helped the cause (4.1 RPG and 2.3 PPG in eight games), Michigan State must find a way over the next six weeks to take some of the pressure off of Center Paul Davis if they hope to play deep into March.

KEYS TO VICTORY:

Michigan: Horton and Harris must be at their best; slashing to the basket and getting to the foul line to put pressure on the Spartan backcourt. If they can make Maurice Ager, Chris Hill and Drew Neitzel work on the defensive end, it could slow the Spartan trio down offensively too.

In addition, if Michigan can use their size and bulk to get Paul Davis into foul trouble, they could have a field day down low against the smaller and less talented Spartan front line.

Michigan State: Go to Paul Davis early and often. If the Spartan big man can get into an early groove, and get to the foul line often, he could have a big night. Naymick, Rowley and Trannon must produce rebounds and blocked shots to keep the pressure off Davis and help him to avoid foul trouble. Defensively overall, they must stop Horton and Harris, while at the same time playing good position defense to keep the Wolverines' big men from getting easy buckets and offensive rebounds.

Maurice Ager and Shannon Brown must continue to be aggressive offensively. Their quickness and shooting touch will pay big dividends if they attack to hoop and get extra chances at the charity stripe. If the Spartans attack the basket and crash the boards, they will be well on their way to a win.

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