Michigan St.-Texas Preview
The rash of injuries hampering his team has Michigan State coach Tom Izzo in a state of bewilderment as the fifth-ranked Spartans prepare for another tough non-conference matchup.
Texas, meanwhile, is on a mission to prove it belongs among the nation's elite.
Michigan State looks to survive its first true road test of the season Saturday when it takes on a Longhorns team seeking to add another impressive victory to its resume.
The Spartans (9-1) have been hurting for some time, and Izzo has no idea how his team will look moving forward. Leading scorer Gary Harris (17.6 points per game) sat out for the third time in four contests due to an ankle injury in Tuesday's 78-48 win over North Florida, while Matt Costello missed his second straight game because of mononucleosis. Reserve guard Travis Trice sat out with a foot blister.
As for who will dress against the Longhorns?
''I have no clue. And you know what? I'm done worrying about it," Izzo said. "I've spent about a week now worrying about these different things that I can't control. I'm going to go down there with whatever guys are ready that can play, and then we're going to play.''
Michigan State's only loss came Dec. 4 when it fell 79-65 at home to North Carolina, a defeat that forced it to relinquish its No. 1 ranking. The Longhorns, though, weren't fazed by the 14th-ranked Tar Heels on Wednesday, winning 86-83 in Chapel Hill.
Texas (10-1) earned its first signature victory, which coach Rick Barnes hopes has the rest of the country realizing his team's potential after a dismal 16-18 campaign last season.
"I said we're not going to be taken seriously until we do something that we're not supposed to do, and I said you've got a chance this week and it starts here," Barnes said. "We've always in the past had a group of guys who would go in hard arenas to play and expect to win, and we haven't had that the past couple of years. For this group to do this, it's going to be something that they should feel really good about."
A win over the Spartans surely would boost the Longhorns' confidence even more and likely push them into the Top 25.
"I really don't look at rankings - I really don't - but I said to our coaches, 'I bet we don't even have a vote.' And I actually showed them," Barnes said. "I had one of the guys get it, and sure enough we didn't even have a vote."
Payne, who had a game-high 19 points Tuesday, has plenty of respect for Texas, though. He scored 13 points off the bench while Appling finished with 14 in a 67-56 home win over the Longhorns on Dec. 22.
''I haven't watched any film of Texas, but I know they're athletic,'' Payne said. ''And they're much better than they were last year.''
Demarcus Holland finished with 15 points against the Tar Heels after a putback off his own missed free throw with 4.1 seconds left helped Texas hold on. Isaiah Taylor scored 16 points and Jonathan Holmes had 15 and 10 rebounds.
Holland played only four minutes and didn't attempt a shot in last season's meeting with the Spartans, while Holmes finished with eight points.
These schools have split eight all-time meetings.