Hoops: UT Deep, Talanted, Tested

In order for the Spartans to leave Houston victorious, they must contain Texas guard A.J. Abrams. The senior is a deadly three-point shooter and has the quickest release in the country.

For the second consecutive season, the Michigan State Spartans have a December matchup with a No. 5 ranked Texas Longhorns team. This will be the third straight season in which the Spartans will play the Longhorns.

After being victorious in the last two meetings, this season's contest figures to be a little tougher knowing that the game is being played in Houston.

This is a Michigan State team that is still trying to find an identity after playing shaky basketball all season.

Fortunately for MSU, the Longhorns haven't been all that impressive lately either. Texas struggled to beat a winless Texas Southern team in their last game and only defeated Texas State by eight points in the game prior to that.

But the Longhorns have beaten two teams considered locks for the NCAA Tournament —UCLA and Villanova. Michigan State has yet to beat a team of that caliber, and if they are unsuccessful yet again, it will have a profound effect on their tournament seeding.

In order for the Spartans to leave Houston victorious, they must contain Texas guard A.J. Abrams. The senior is a deadly three-point shooter and has the quickest release in the country.

Kalin Lucas and Travis Walton will have the task of guarding Abrams, but they both say that it will take a team effort to hold Abrams under his season average of 20 points per game.

"Six eyes" was the phrase that was being uttered by Michigan State — UT coach Rick Barnes will run Abrams around endless screens, so it is imperative that everyone is aware of where he is on the court.

Texas' second leading scorer, and probably their best all-around player, is junior Damion James. Tom Izzo described James as a "man," and that assessment couldn't have been more accurate.

The third-year starter is a physical specimen and he plays relentlessly. In the last two seasons, he has refined his game by adding some finesse, but he still likes to play in the paint and he averages 14 points and just under 8 rebounds per game. His matchup with Raymar Morgan will be the one to watch on Saturday.

Gary Johnson, Justin Mason, Connor Atchley and Dexter Pittman are the other primary contributors for the Longhorns.

Johnson is a sturdy sophomore wing that possesses great athleticism. He did not play against MSU at the Palace last year.

Mason is a capable defender and opportunistic scorer. And Atchley is a solid big man that can step out and hit the jumper. He is shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc.

Pittman is the wild card for Texas. He is a big body that has shed considerable weight and is now down to 298 pounds. He only plays 12 minutes per game, but he is their third-leading scorer at 8.6 points a night. The Spartans must take notice when he enters the games because the Longhorns will go to him immediately.

TICKETS ON SALE

Tickets remain for Michigan State's game against Oakland at the Palace on December 27. Tickets can be purchased for $15-30 at palacenet.com, ticketmaster.com, the Palace Box Office, or by calling (248) 377-0100.

Student section seats are available for the Michigan State-Ohio State contest on January 6. Tickets range in price from $13-$30 and may be purchased through the MSU Athletics Ticket Office by phone at 1-800-GO-STATE or 517-355-1610 or on-line at www.msuspartans.com.


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