While Miami still has an entire slate of ACC games on tap, and more out of conference opportunities to build their resume, tonight's visit from Sparty is nonetheless a HUGE chance to make a statement. Facing a traditional powerhouse at home, with the entire nation watching, is a special occasion. Miami is coming off far and away their best performance of the season, a 77-62 dismantling of an above average Detroit team. The Spartans however, pose a much "larger" challenge. Led by talented and clutch G Keith Appling, and a bruising front line, MSU is projected to contend for a Big Ten title and potentially make a deep run in the NCAA's. Fortunately for the 'Canes, senior G Durand Scott is back in the mix, and backcourt mates Shane Larkin and Trey McKinney Jones continue to play superbly. UM will also need big men Reggie Johnson, Kenny Kadji, and Julian Gamble to hold their own against the bruising style of a Tom Izzo coached team.
Michigan State Scouting Report:
The Spartans started the season with a tough loss against a good UConn team in Germany. Perhaps the unusual setting affected their shooting (37.5 FG%) but they showed no ill effects when 4 days later they upset a top ten Kansas squad. In that game Keith Appling was sensational. Appling made all 3 of his threes, scored 19 points, and made two huge buckets down the stretch. As Appling goes, so go the Spartans. Unfortunately for MSU second leading scorer freshman G Gary Harris is out for 2 weeks with a shoulder sprain, further increasing the scoring load on Appling. However sophomore G Travis Trice (concussion) who hasn't played since the opener, could be ready for tonight's game. While the guards do the majority of the scoring, the real danger in facing State is getting wiped out on the glass. 6'9 wide body Derrick Nix and 6'10 space eater Adreian Payne are a handful, combining to average about 17 ppg and 15 rpg. Containing Appling is priority 1, but holding your own inside is a very close second when you face the Spartans. MSU did look a touch sluggish in a 63-60 win over Louisiana-Lafayette on Sunday, but expect more energy tonight.
Appling Vs Scott/Larkin. Yes, Mr. Appling has ice in his veins. And yes he may be the best guard UM faces prior to ACC play. But Miami did a fantastic job containing Detroit's all-world scoring G Ray McCallum last time out. Scott is a physical presence as a guard who moves his feet very well on defense. Larkin is one of the fastest players in the country and his confidence is rising each time out. Whichever of the two Appling checks, will force him to work on defense. It will be fun to watch these guys go at it.
Projected Starting Lineups:
C Derrick Nix 6'9 270 SR
F Adreian Payne 6'10 240 JR
G Keith Appling 6'1 190 JR
G Branden Dawson 6'6 230 SO
G Denzel Valentine 6-5 220 FR
Unlike the contest against Detroit, Miami will not have the clear advantage down low. Reggie Johnson is going to need to be at his best or UM could be in trouble in the paint. Big Reg tends to save his best for the big games, so look for a solid perhaps signature performance for the 'Canes big man. Another difference in this game will be that there is no way the Hurricanes win if their two best outside shooters Kenny Kadji and Rion Brown combine to go 0-8 again from deep. Both guys are too good for that to happen again, so look for the 'Canes to knock down some shots tonight. Appling is going to make some plays, and even if Reggie plays big, the Spartans are going to get second chances. In a tight contest, the big men cancel each other out but Scott and Larkin make a few moe plays then Appling and Miami squeezes out a 68-65 win.