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Pregame Shootaround: Georgetown v. Michigan State

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The Georgetown Hoyas (11-9; 3-6) and Michigan State Spartans (19-2; 8-1) are set to face off tomorrow in what was projected to be one of the better non-conference matchups prior to the start of the season. The major difference between the two teams this season has been how they have responded to key injuries; Michigan State has done a masterful job of playing through injuries and getting the most out of reserves, while Georgetown has fallen flat on its face under similar circumstances. The game tips off at 3:00 p.m. EST at Madison Square Garden.

Get to Know Michigan State.

The Big Picture. Michigan State rebounded from its first conference loss last weekend with a big win over Iowa this past Tuesday. The Spartans are now 10-0 in away/neutral games on the season and will be certainly be out to extend that record against the freefalling Hoyas. Michigan State's past three games have been decided by five points or fewer, so this is a battle tested team to say the least.

What I learned from Wikipedia.

The Michigan Constitution of 1850 called for the creation of an "agricultural school",though it was not until February 12, 1855, that Michigan Governor Kinsley S. Bingham signed a bill establishing the United States' first agriculture college, the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan. It required three hours of daily manual labor from students, which kept costs down for both the students and the College.

Today, MSU is the ninth-largest university in the United States (in terms of enrollment), with 49,300 students (2013-14) and 2,954 faculty members. 89% of students come from all 83 counties in the state of Michigan.

Notable Alumni: Dan Gilbert (‘82), Chris Hansen (‘81), Earvin "Magic" Johnson.

Roster rundown. The Spartans are one of the most efficient, balanced and well-coached teams in the country. Think of them as the San Antonio Spurs of college basketball. Even though two of their best players are hurt (Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson), they have a system in place that allows for reserves to thrive in expanded roles.

Back court.

Michigan State's guards will be on full display against Georgetown since key members of the frontcourt will be inactive for the game. PG Keith Appling (15.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.9 apg, 1.3 spg) and SG Gary Harris (18.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.8 apg, 2.1 spg) combine to make up one of the top backcourt duos in the nation and are playing at an All-American level right now. Appling is a blur getting to the basket and Harris is strong enough to lock down opposing forwards, making them two of the tougher assignments in the country on both ends of the floor. I would be remiss if I did not emphasize the importance of Denzel Valentine (7.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.0 spg), who has been coming up huge for the Spartans in wake of their recent injuries. Travis Trice (7.0 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.1 spg), Russell Byrd (1.8 ppg, 1.3 rpg), and Alvin Ellis (2.1 ppg) are consistent contributors off the bench for the Spartans, and have all seen increased playing time of late.

Front court.

Michigan State will be without Adreian Payne (16.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.0 bpg) and Branden Dawson (10.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.2 spg), which leaves them slightly understaffed down low. The ever-resourceful Tom Izzo has made do with reserves, however, and the team has barely skipped a beat in their absence. Matt Costello (4.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.6 bpg) came up huge in Michigan State's most recent game against Iowa, setting career highs in points (11) and rebounds (12) while adding two blocks and a steal en route to an overtime win. Freshman Kenny Kaminski (4.9 ppg, 1.1 rebounds, 46.2 3-point%) has started alongside Costello in the Spartans' previous two contests, and has the ability make teams pay from 3-point land if overlooked. Alex Gauna (2.2 ppg, 1.6 rpg) has seen an increase in playing time in recent games as well.

Michigan State on twitter. Michigan State will be the first team to don Nike's new Hyper Elite Dominance Uniforms. I won't lie; I am a huge fan of these jerseys. Michigan State's in particular. Props, Nike.

What to watch when the Spartans have the ball.

  • Spartan: Gary Harris. The sophomore sensation had an off night in the Spartans' last game against Iowa, but was averaging a scorching 24.7 points on 65.2% shooting from the field and 62.5% from 3-point territory in the three games prior. The fact that he has an off night does not bode well for the Hoyas, as Harris will likely look for his shot early and often in tomorrow's game. He seems like a very respectable kid by all accounts and showed respect to Georgetown and MSG in a recent interview.
  • Hoya: Jabril Trawick. Trawick will (hopefully) be tasked with guarding Gary Harris, which is a very tall order for anyone, but one that Trawick has the defensive capabilities to handle. Either way, the Spartans have a ton of guard-forward hybrids that really only Trawick and Aaron Bowen will be able to mark, so expect a big uptick in minutes for Trawick from the 12 minutes he played last game against Villanova.
  • Number. Rebounding. The Spartans are top 10 in assists per game and top 50 in shooting percentage categories across the board, but I'm going to go with rebounding as the number to look out for in this one. The Spartans will be without their top two rebounders (by far) in Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne, both of whom are monsters on the offensive glass. Michigan State has done well in the two games without both big men, but if Georgetown is able to limit second chance opportunities it could end up paying dividends.
  • Feeling delusional because... The Spartans left everything on the floor in a nail-biting overtime win against Iowa and walked away full and satisfied. Though it is not in Izzo's nature to let his team overlook any game on the schedule, this has all the makings of a trap game for Michigan State.
  • Feeling cynical because... It's not often that DSR and Markel run into a pair of guards that are simply better than they are, but that seems to be the case here, and even without the services of Payne and Dawson Michigan State still has better big men than the Hoyas. They are the more talented team and the better coached team, and that may very well be too much for Georgetown to handle, no matter how much hungrier we are for a win.

What to watch when the Hoyas have the ball.

  • Hoya: Markel Starks. Starks has been playing inspired basketball these past few games, fighting like a madman to salvage his final season on the hilltop. He has a three game streak of 20+ points heading into this contest. Michigan State is a team that has surprisingly been ripped by opposing guards lately, giving up 19 or more points to four guards in the past three games. Starks may put up 20 shots, but he figures to score a ton of points.
  • Spartan: Matt Costello. Costello was nothing short of a game-changing player in Michigan State's game against Iowa. He had a big block late in the second half and some crucial rebounds in overtime that helped the Spartans seal the deal. He has been doing so much for Michigan State that doesn't show up on the stat sheet since Payne went down; expect him to harass just about every Hoya drive in tomorrow's matchup. Getting him in early foul trouble would be a blessing.
  • Number. Free-throw attempts. I'll keep beating a dead horse here in saying that Georgetown needs to shoot more free throws than Michigan State if there is any chance to pull off a win. In the two games since Branden Dawson went down with an injury, Michigan State is -30 in aggregate free-throw attempts. This is a gigantic discrepancy, and one that Georgetown, who has similar problems, needs to take advantage of. The Hoyas shot 9 free throws last game to Villanova's 28, and that right there is simply unacceptable.
  • Feeling delusional because... As I mentioned earlier, Michigan State's defensive vulnerabilities lie with its guards. If DSR and Starks can put up 20+ apiece, I genuinely think we have a shot in this one.
  • Feeling cynical because... Michigan State held Iowa to 1 field goal in the final 14:15 of their game. Georgetown has been an absolute disaster in the second half of games recently, and against defenses far worse than the Spartans'.

Conclusion. The matchup between the two sets of guards in this game will make for fantastic TV no matter the outcome. On paper one would likely assume Michigan State will throttle Georgetown in tomorrow's matchup, but my gut tells me that will not be the case. Markel Starks is playing like a man possessed and guys like Aaron Bowen are fired up as well. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say we take this game from Michigan State, if nothing else because they are content and we are desperate.