Saturdays game between the No. 14 Spartans and the No. 11 Oklahoma Sooners could prove to be a turning point for both teams.
Both teams are coming off devastating losses last week, and a win over a quality opponent before conference play begins would be huge.
MSU (8-3) lost to Toledo 81-76 on Monday, snapping its 36-game non-conference winning streak at the Breslin Center, and Oklahoma (7-2) fell to No. 10 Mississippi State Saturday 54-45. Oklahoma recovered on Monday to throttle UNC Asheville 100-64.
The teams will meet for the third time in four years in the Touchstone Energy All-College Classic at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City. In the last meeting MSU took care of the Sooners 67-55 last year at the Breslin Center in the Preseason NIT.
The game is slated for a 9 p.m. start, following the Oklahoma State-BYU game.
Both teams have dreams of capturing a national championship, and both teams have the athletes and talent to do so.
In this young college basketball season, its already been proven that at any given time one team could beat up on another. For example only two teams, No. 1 Duke and No. 5 Connecticut, in the ESPN/USA Today top 10 have yet to suffer losses.
Saturdays game will be the last non-conference game for the Spartans, which opens the Big Ten season against Ohio State in East Lansing on Thursday.
Oklahoma has one more non-conference game on its slate, before opening its Big 12 season and its sure to be a battle. The Sooners visit the No. 5 Huskies on Tuesday.
With all that being said, lets look at each teams top performers and breakdown, which team has the edge in this pivotal matchup.
MSU: The Spartans get a bulk of its offensive production from its guard play and thats not going to be any different in Saturdays game. Sophomore guard Chris Hill leads the Spartans in scoring with 16.4 points per game hes the only Spartan averaging double figures. Hill is connecting on 47 percent of his field goal tries and 44 percent of his three-point attempts. Sophomore Kelvin Torbert has also made positive strides since coming off an ankle injury earlier in the year. Torbert knocked in a career high 16 points against Toledo and is averaging 9.1 points per game. Redshirt sophomore Tim Bograkos has provided energy and hustle for the Spartans so far this season. Bograkos, who has started three games, does not present an offensive threat, taking only 25 shots in 214 minutes.
OU: The Sooners are led by a trio of seniors, Ebi Ere, Hollis Price and Quannas White, which makes it one of the best backcourts in the country. Ere leads the team in scoring with 18.6 ppg and has led the Sooners in scoring in six of the teams nine games. Price, who has picked as the Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year, has not disappointed. He is averaging 16.8 ppg along with 3 assists per game. Hes also a threat from behind the arc, knocking down 21 three-point shots on the season. The 6-foot-1 guard is also lethal from the free throw line, hitting 91 percent. The unsung member of the backcourt has to be White. The Oklahoma point guard dishes out 4.3 apg, and averages 1.9 steals per game. However, the most impressive statistics is his ability to not to turn the ball over. White leads the Big 12 with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.3.
Advantage: OU. The Spartans will have trouble guarding Ere and Price. The Sooners also have an edge in the turnover department. The Spartans average 16.3 turnovers per game and Oklahoma averages 12.3 turnovers per game. Bottom line, MSU has trouble guarding the outside shot and it still lacks someone who can handle the ball.
MSU: Sophomore Alan Anderson averages 27.6 minutes per game and has improved his game as of late. The 6-foot-6 forward is shooting 43 percent from the field and pulls down 3.4 rebounds per game. He is the second leading scorer for the Spartans, 9.3 ppg, but has been criticized for lack of hustle. Senior Adam Ballinger has been in a horrible slump of late. The senior captain has yet to show consistency in MSUs 11 games. The 6-foot-9 forward scored 14 points against Cleveland State on Dec. 8, since then hes averaged just 3.2 ppg. However, Ballinger is still a shooting threat, knocking down 5 three-pointers in 14 attempts. Freshman Erazem Lorbek has shown flashes of brilliance in his young career, but foul trouble has affected his overall game. Lorbek is averaging 12.3 minutes and is shooting a team-high 67 percent from the field.
OU: The Sooners have a solid future in its frontcourt. Freshman Kevin Bookout, last years "Mr.Basketball" in Oklahoma has been the real deal so far this season. Bookout has started all nine games and is averaging 9.4 ppg and a team-high 6 rpg. The 6-foot-8, 260-pound forward also leads the team in field goal percentage, hitting 59 percent of his shots. Sophomore forward Johnnie Gilbert has provided a spark after missing three games with an injury. Gilbert returned to action on Dec. 14 and in the last four games hes averaging 5.5 ppg and 5.5 rpg. Gilbert has had trouble staying healthy, receiving a medical redshirt last season with shoulder and hip injuries.
Advantage: MSU. The Spartans win this battle, because of depth. Oklahoma gets enough out of Bookout to compliment the tremendous trio of guards. Anderson has proven to be one of the Spartans better defenders and if Ballinger can break out of his funk, he could present some matchup problems.
MSU: The Spartans dont technically have a true center, but senior Al Anagonye and freshman Paul Davis are the Spartans best low post players. Anagonye has been more of an offensive threat this season than he has in the past. "Big Al" is hitting 66 percent from the field, while averaging 8.6 ppg and 6.3 rpg. Anagonye was an inside presence for the Spartans in its loss to Toledo. He got several open dunks and offensive rebounds. Davis has been solid, but shows room for improvement. Davis gets 16 minutes of action and during that time hes been active, averaging 8.6 ppg and 4.4 rpg. The knock on Davis has been his free throw shooting. Davis has been to the line 52 times, the most of any Spartan, but has only made 36 of them.
OU: The Sooners start 6-foot-10 Jabahri Brown, who can be the X-factor for this team. Brown knocks in 7.9 ppg and leads the team in rebounding with nearly 6 boards a game. Brown has also turned on his defense as of late swatting eight of his 10 block shots in the last three games. The Sooners also have a 6-11 freshman center coming off its bench. Larry Turner has played in six games this season and is averaging 1.3 points and 1.5 rebounds per game.
Advantage: MSU. Anagonye is a wide-body, who should provide some trouble down low. The key will be how Davis will respond. Against Toledo, Davis never really found his game and was in foul trouble. He should be able to go toe-to-toe with both of Oklahomas centers and then some. If he gets 10 point or more points MSU has a good chance to pull off the victory.
MSU: Paul Davis will be the biggest factor for the Spartans. Davis needs to provide a threat down low to alleviate the pressure put on its guards. Hill is going to find his shots and will score in double figures, but Davis and his ability to draw the foul should give MSU a remedy to Oklahomas guards.
OU: For the Sooners I think another pair of guards could factor into a victory. Blake Johnston and DeAngelo Alexander have been vital in Oklahomas success. Both guards excelled in the win over UNC Asheville. Alexander scored a season-high 14 points and is averaging 6.4 ppg in 18 minutes off the bench. Johnston had a team-high 9 assists and can also shoot the rock. The 6-foot-1 sophomore is hitting 43 percent of his three-point shots.
Both teams like to get to the boards and both teams do it well. MSU out rebounds their opponents by 7.5 rebounds per game, while Oklahoma out rebounds their opponents by 8.9. MSU has also played decent defense thus far allowing their opponents to hit just 41 percent of their field goals. On the other hand, the Spartans havent been successful in stopping the three-point shot. MSU has given up 77 already this season. Both teams shoot the ball very well from the free throw line, but the biggest intangible will be who turns the ball over the least. Oklahoma is one the best in the county, whereas MSU has struggled.
Advantage: OU. If Oklahoma plays error-free and hits the boards they should get the victory. MSU has to stop turning the ball over and step out and defend the three-point shot better. If they dont do these things, they will suffer another disappointing loss.
MSU: Tom Izzo is going to have his team ready to play. Izzo still believes this team has so much potential, but has yet to put it together for a long stretch. Theyve beaten Virginia and Kentucky, but couldnt put away Oklahoma State, Villanova and Toledo. Izzo stresses hustle and rebounding to his team, which hasnt responded like Spartan teams of the past. I expect Izzo will lead the team on the court more focused then ever before.
OU: Kelvin Sampson is an elite coach. Sampson is approaching 200 victories at Oklahoma and has won more than 28 games in the last three years. His teams stress patience and usually dont beat themselves with costly turnovers. Sampson is no slouch and his team will prove that to the nation if they can knock off the Spartans.
Advantage: MSU. Izzo will be the first to say his teams have not played well, and hell be the first make the appropriate adjustments. Hell find the right people to execute his game plan, and then it will be up to those players. They responded against Virginia and Kentucky and they look to do it again.
Outcome: Oklahoma 73 MSU 65. The Sooners will play its game and Ere and Price will prove to be too much for this young Spartan team.