Texas-Michigan St. Preview
It's been a whirlwind season so far for Texas, suffering a couple of embarrassing losses before finally earning a signature win. It just so happens that victory came on the very night it found out guard Myck Kabongo would be suspended longer than previously expected.
Michigan State hasn't exactly played up to its standards, either.
The Longhorns seek a third straight victory over the 20th-ranked Spartans when the teams meet Saturday in East Lansing.
Kabongo was suspended prior to the season while the NCAA investigated if he received possible impermissible benefits. The NCAA announced Friday Kabongo would be suspended 23 games, which includes the 11 he has already missed, for accepting benefits and providing false statements during an investigation into the infractions.
Texas (7-4) has struggled at times without Kabongo, falling to Division II Chaminade at the Maui Invitational and shooting 29.2 percent in a 64-41 loss to No. 15 Georgetown on Dec. 4.
The Longhorns looked like a completely different team Wednesday in routing No. 23 North Carolina 85-67, but during the game reports surfaced that Kabongo had been suspended for the remainder of the season.
"There's a process that every athlete goes through,'' coach Rick Barnes said.
Jonathan Holmes scored 15 points and said the victory over a ranked opponent is a step in the right direction for Texas.
"I think it's pretty big for us,'' said Holmes, who has totaled 29 points in the last two games after combining for 29 in the previous five. "We've had a couple tough losses because we weren't playing as hard as we should have, but we came out, played harder than them and did what we expected to do.
"It definitely sets the bar higher for us.''
The Longhorns will look to defeat their second straight Top 25 team when they visit the Breslin Center, where they beat the then-No. 12 Spartans 67-55 exactly two years ago from Saturday in the most recent meeting. Exactly one year prior to that, No. 2 Texas beat ninth-ranked Michigan State 79-68 in Austin.
Michigan State (10-2) has won five straight against unimpressive competition, surviving a scare to hold off Bowling Green 64-53 on the road Tuesday. Freshmen Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine scored 12 points each for the Spartans, who needed a late 14-2 run to put the game away.
"If we're going to be a good team, we had to come here and win this game,'' Tom Izzo said.
The Spartans also must cut down on their mistakes, as they average a Big Ten-worst 15.6 per game. Texas has been even worse at taking care of the ball, ranking last in the 10-team Big 12 averaging 17.4 giveaways.
Michigan State, which is tops in the Big 10 giving up only 56.1 points per contest, is preparing for the Longhorns' up-tempo style.
"They like to get out in transition and run," said Harris, who is second on the team in scoring at 12.6 per game. "They've got (a solid frontcourt) and have a very good all-around team. We've just got to come ready to play."
Saturday marks the beginning of a tougher stretch for the Spartans, who haven't played a major-conference team since a 67-59 loss to Miami in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge on Nov. 28. They open conference play at No. 13 Minnesota on Dec. 31.
"We watched (Texas') game versus North Carolina and they looked pretty solid," sophomore Alex Gauna said. "I think we'll be ready. We've had a few days to prepare for them, so we need to get ready to play and head out to a good Christmas break and get ready for the Big Ten."