Michigan State Opens Homestand Against Northwestern
 
 
 
The Spartans will host Northwestern on Thursday night.
 
The Spartans will host Northwestern on Thursday night.
 
 

Feb. 12, 2014

#9/10 Michigan State (20-4, 9-2) vs. Northwestern (12-12, 5-6)
 Date Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014
 Time 7 p.m. ET
 Location East Lansing, Mich. | Breslin Center
 Television BTN (Dave Revsine, Jim Jackson)
 Radio Spartan Sports Network (Will Tieman, Gus Ganakas, Matt Steigenga)
 Tickets Available at MSUSpartans.com
 Game Notes Michigan State | Northwestern
 Statistics  Michigan State | Northwestern
 Internet Coverage  Gametracker | Live Stats (Mobile Users)
 Social Media @MSU_Basketball   |  Facebook

THE OPENING TIP
Michigan State is back at home for two games this week, beginning with a Thursday night contest against Northwestern. The game features two of the best defensive teams in the conference as the Spartans and Wildcats rank in the top two in scoring defense and field-goal percentage defense in Big Ten games.

THE STARTING FIVE
1. Payne Back In Action

After missing seven games with a right foot sprain, Adreian Payne returned to the lineup against Penn State, scoring 12 points in 18 minutes off the bench. He returned to the starting lineup in the next game against Wisconsin, scoring a game-high 24 points in 32 minutes, including 18 second-half minutes. In two games, he's averaging 18.0 points, shooting .560 from the field, .500 from 3-point range and .750 from the foul line, while also averaging 3.5 rebounds and 25.0 minutes.

2. The Complete Package
Gary Harris gets a lot of notoriety for his scoring, as he ranks third in the Big Ten (17.6 ppg). But what makes him special is his ability to be a difference maker on both ends of the court, leading the Spartans with 43 steals, ranking third in the conference (2.0 spg). In Big Ten action, he ranks fourth in scoring (17.1 ppg) and tied for first in steals (2.7 spg). Since returning to the starting lineup on Dec. 28, he has totaled 36 steals (2.8 spg) in 12 games.

3. Valentine's Versatility
Denzel Valentine is one of just two Spartans to appear in all 24 games, and the only one to appear in every contest averaging more than 10 minutes (28.7 mpg - third on the team). He is the only player in the Big Ten to rank among the top 10 in both rebounding (9th, 6.3 rpg) and assists (7th, 3.8 apg). In conference games, he ranks second in the Big Ten in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.5) and third in rebounding (7.2 rpg). He's even elevated his play as of late, scoring in double figures in five of the last seven games, averaging 9.3 points and 7.9 rebounds. He's led MSU in assists in nine games and in rebounding nine times.

4. Trice Runs The Point
With Keith Appling having missed the last two games with a right wrist injury, Travis Trice has filled in admirably at the point. In two games, he's averaging 9.0 points, 4.5 assists and 4.0 rebounds, while not committing a single turnover in 69 minutes. The seven assists he totaled against Penn State were a personal high against a Big Ten opponent, while his 13 points at Wisconsin were the most he had ever scored against a Big Ten team.

5. Breslin Advantage
Michigan State is 337-48 (.875) at home all-time since Breslin Center opened in 1989, including 175-36 (.829) in Big Ten play. Under Tom Izzo, the Spartans are 263-33 (.889) at Breslin, including a 134-23 (.854) conference record. MSU has won 44 of the last 48 (.917) games at Breslin.

MSU VS. NORTHWESTERN NOTES
Series History
Michigan State leads the all-time series with Northwestern, 83-38, including a 47-8 advantage in games played in East Lansing. The Spartans have won 18 of the last 20, 25 of the last 28, and 45 of the last 49 contests. Tom Izzo is 28-4 in his career against Northwestern.

Coach Collins
Chris Collins (Duke, '98) is 12-12 in his first season as a collegiate head coach. Prior to his arrival in Evanston, Collins was an assistant coach at Duke from 2000-2013, including serving as associate head coach since the 2008-09 season. Collins also spent two seasons as an assistant coach at Seton Hall, and one season with the WNBA's Detroit Shock.

The Last Meeting
Michigan State used a strong defensive effort to defeat Northwestern, 54-40, in Evanston. The first half featured six ties and four lead changes as neither squad led by more than four points. MSU shot 11-16 (.688) from two-point range in the first half, but just 1-11 (.091) from behind the arc, while NU shot just .310 from the field, but did connect on four 3-pointers. The Spartans continued to struggle offensively in the second half, shooting just .320, but they clamped down defensively, limiting the Wildcats to .235 shooting, including .125 from three-point range. Still, MSU couldn't shake the Wildcats through most of the half, holding a 40-35 with 10:06 remaining. That's when the Spartans ramped up the defense even more, slowing pulling away with a 10-2 run over the next 5:07. MSU's defense allowed just five points and one field goal in the final 10 minutes, including no field goals after the 7:17 mark. Gary Harris led MSU with 14 points, while Branden Dawson grabbed 11 rebounds. Tre Demps was the only Wildcat in double figures with 12 points.

The Last Meeting In East Lansing
Michigan State defeated Northwestern, 71-61, on March 10, 2013, in the regular-season finale in East Lansing. The Spartans led 33-26 at the half thanks to shooting .650 from the floor, and .600 from 3-point range. Northwestern tied the game at 53 with 5:44 remaining. MSU scored on five of its next six possessions, and NU missed seven straight shots, as the Spartans went on a 10-0 run over the next 4:41. The Spartans hit 1-of-5 free throws to start, but made 14 of their final 15 attempts, including 12-of-13 in the last 2:43. MSU shot a season-best 65.8 percent from the field, including a season-high 60.0 percent from 3-point range. Keith Appling led MSU with 16 points, and Derrick Nix tallied 10 points and a career-high six assists on Senior Day. Kale Abrahamson led NU with 16 points.

Wildcat Notes
Nine different Wildcats have started at least one game this season, although Northwestern has used the same lineup for the last eight contests ... In Big Ten games, Northwestern leads the conference in scoring defense and 3-point field-goal percentage defense, while ranking second in field-goal percentage defense ... NU has shot 36 percent or better from 3-point range in three straight games, including 43.8 percent vs. Wisconsin.

GM. 24 RECAP • WISCONSIN 60 - MICHIGAN STATE 58
The contest started as a back-and-forth game, with seven lead changes in the first 13 minutes. When Alvin Ellis III converted a fast-break layup with 6:49 left in the half, MSU held a 22-19 lead. The Spartans, however, would not score again in the half, as the Badgers closed on an 11-0 run. MSU missed its final 12 shots of the half and committed two turnovers in the final 6:23, as Wisconsin held a 30-22 lead at the break. In the second half, MSU cut its deficit to single point early, but the Badgers pushed their lead back out to 10 with 13:14 left. UW's Frank Kaminsky hit a 3-pointer with 29 seconds left to give the Badgers a seemingly comfortable 58-53 lead. After a timeout, Gary Harris connected on a long field goal to cut the margin to three. Wisconsin followed with a missed free throw, setting the stage for Adreian Payne to knock down a 3-pointer to tie the game with 8.7 seconds left. After a timeout, Traevon Jackson, dribbled the length of the court for a pull-up game-winner with 2.1 seconds left. MSU had one last chance, but Travis Trice's half-court heave was just off target.

MSU VS. WISCONSIN NOTES
* Adreian Payne scored a game-high 24 points in his second game back after missing seven straight with a foot sprain.
* With his 24 points, Payne became the 44th player in MSU history to score 1,000 career points. He passed the milestone with his last-minute 3-pointer.
* For the first time all season, MSU lost a game when out-rebounding its opponent (31-29).
* MSU had fewer turnovers (11) than Wisconsin (14), despite the Badgers entering the game with a Big Ten-low average of 8.3.
* The Spartans held a dominating 28-12 edge in points in the paint, but were out-scored from the foul line by a 13-5 mark.
* For the third straight time, MSU and Wisconsin battled to the final possession at the Kohl Center, as the Spartans had won by two points in 2013 and by three points in overtime in 2012.
* Adreian Payne made his first start since Jan. 4 (at Indiana).

MSU BASKETBALL NOTES
Spartan Spurtability
Michigan State's dynamic offense has shown the ability to score points in bunches. In 13 of 24 games, the Spartans have posted at least a 10-0 run. Some of MSU's best spurts include 21-0 vs. New Orleans, 18-0 vs. McNeese State, and 15-0 against Minnesota.

Spartan Defense
Michigan State has held opponents below 40 percent shooting for the year in each of the last two seasons, limiting opponents to .390 FG% last year (ranking 22nd in the nation) and .379 FG% in 2011-12 (ranking second in the nation). It's the first time the Spartans have held opponents below 40 percent in back-to-back seasons since MSU did it three straight seasons from 1999-2000 to 2001-02. MSU's first 24 opponents are shooting .386 from the floor, leading the Big Ten and ranking 13th in the nation (NCAA stats through Feb. 9), including .318 from 3-point range, ranking fifth in the conference. In conference games, MSU ranks first in field-goal percentage defense (.394), blocks (6.0 bpg), and steals (7.8 spg), and second in scoring defense (64.2 ppg).

Taking Care Of The Ball
Michigan State is on pace to shatter the mark for fewest turnovers during the Tom Izzo era. MSU is currently averaging 11.3 turnovers. The previous low during the Izzo era was 13.0 in 2011-12. The Spartans are 12-3 when committing fewer turnovers than their opponent. MSU ranks second in the Big Ten in turnover margin (+2.2), out-scoring opponents by +3.2 points per game (16.0-12.8) in points off turnovers.

Rotating Starting Lineup
Michigan State has used 13 different starting lineups in the last 19 games, and a total of 14 on the season. A large part of the rotating door has been the various injuries/illnesses to strike the Spartans. In fact, MSU's five primary starters (Keith Appling, Gary Harris, Branden Dawson, Adreian Payne, and Matt Costello) have all played in just 10 of 24 games. It began with Gary Harris missing three games (Mount St. Mary's, Oakland, North Florida) in a four-game stretch with an ankle injury and also coming off the bench at Texas. Matt Costello started six of the first eight games of the season, but then missed four straight with mononucleosis before returning for conference play. Branden Dawson sat out the New Orleans game with a shin bruise and Travis Trice missed the North Florida game with foot blisters and the Ohio State game due to illness. In addition, Adreian Payne (plantar fasciitis) and Keith Appling (hip pointer) missed significant amounts of practice in early/mid December. The Spartans have been hit especially hard recently as Payne is currently dealing with a right foot sprain which forced him to miss seven contests before returning vs. Penn State. Dawson suffered a broken bone in his right hand on Jan. 23 and is out of action 4-5 weeks, and Appling has a sore right wrist, first suffered against North Carolina, which forced him to miss the last two games vs. Penn State and Wisconsin.

20-Win Seasons
With its 82-67 win over Penn State, MSU recorded its 14th 20-win season in the last 17 years, all under head coach Tom Izzo. Of the 22 20-win seasons in Spartan history, Izzo has been involved in 19 of them, 14 as a head coach and five as an assistant.

Spartans In Overtime
Michigan State is 3-0 in overtime this season, including 2-0 at home. In fact, MSU has won its last seven overtime games, with its last loss coming to Minnesota in the 2010 Big Ten Tournament. The Spartans last had three overtime games in Big Ten play during the 2011 campaign.

Lending A Helping Hand
Michigan State is averaging 17.2 assists on the season, pacing the Big Ten and ranking sixth in the nation. With 412 assists on 669 made field goals, the Spartans are recording an assist on 61.6 percent of their baskets. MSU ranks first in the Big Ten and 10th nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.5) (NCAA stats through Feb. 9). Keith Appling is second in the conference in assists (4.9 apg) and second in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.5). Four Spartans average two or more assists as Denzel Valentine (3.8 apg), Gary Harris (2.7 apg), and Travis Trice (2.3 apg) join Appling.

Payne's Senior Season
After opting to bypass the NBA Draft and return to Michigan State, Adreian Payne is determined to make the most of his senior season. A preseason first-team All-American as selected by Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, Payne ranks second on the team in scoring (16.4 ppg) and rebounding (7.2 rpg). He's posted a double-double in four games this season and 10 of his last 28 dating back to last season. Against Texas, he scored a career-high 33 points. He ranked in the Top 10 in the conference in both scoring and rebounding before falling out of the rankings due to not playing in enough games. He's captured Big Ten Player of the Week honors twice this season (Nov. 18 and Dec. 23). He returned to action against Penn State (Feb. 6), scoring 12 points in 18 minutes, after missing the previous seven games while resting a sprained foot. Prior to the Penn State game, his last action came against Ohio State on Jan. 7, nearly one month earlier.

Next Man Up
There's no secret that the Spartans have been forced to deal with several injuries this season, but they understand that their opponents won't ease up, nor are they looking for any sympathy. Just as the Spartan football team employed the "Next Man Up" motto, with reserve linebacker Kyler Elsworth making the game-clinching fourth-down stop in the Rose Bowl, so too has the Spartan basketball team. For instance, in the seven games that Adreian Payne missed, Matt Costello averaged 7.0 points and 5.4 rebounds, compared to 2.6 points and 3.0 rebounds before that. Denzel Valentine also elevated his production, averaging 8.6 points and 7.4 rebounds in Payne's absence. Over the last nine games, Costello is averaging 7.1 points and 5.0 rebounds and Valentine is averaging 8.3 points and 8.0 rebounds. When Branden Dawson went down Jan. 23, more opportunities opened in the Spartan lineup. First, Alvin Ellis III doubled his career high with 12 points against Michigan. Against Iowa on Jan. 28, Russell Byrd stepped up and hit a game-clinching 3-pointer in overtime after not playing in five of the first six Big Ten games, and not hitting a 3-pointer since Dec. 17.

Different Ways To Win
With its 54-40 win at Northwestern, Michigan State proved it could win a low-scoring contest with its defense. But MSU has also shown it can win with a potent offense. In fact, MSU has now won games when scoring in the 50's (1), 60's (2), 70's (8), 80's (4), 90's (4), and 100's (1). Wisconsin and Michigan State are the only teams to accomplish this feat in the Big Ten, and two of just seven schools to do it nationally, joining Connecticut, Florida State, Marquette, Norfolk State and Tennessee Tech.

Comeback Kids
Michigan State ranks third in the Big Ten in scoring margin (+12.9), but that doesn't mean it isn't capable of a comeback. The Spartans have overcome deficits of 10 or more points three times, and deficits of seven or more points six times. MSU is a 7-1 when trailing at the half.

Appling Paces The Big Ten
Keith Appling has elevated his all-around play as a senior and is proving to be among the most dominating performers in the Big Ten, and, in fact, the country. Appling leads the conference with four games in which he's tallied at least 20 points and seven assists. The rest of the conference has just four occasions, and Appling ranks tied for fifth in the country. The Spartan senior also paces the Big Ten with three games of at least 20 points, 7 assists and five rebounds, ranking tied for second in the nation, trailing only Delaware's Jarvis Threatt (4). (National totals through games of Jan. 29.)

Kaminski For Three
Redshirt freshman Kenny Kaminski is quickly establishing himself as one of the top shooters in the conference. On the season, he is shooting .500 (26-52) from 3-point range. He's been equally prolific in conference play, connecting on 19-of-38 attempts (.514) from behind the arc, ranking tied for second in the conference. In two games (vs. Minnesota and Penn State) Kaminski hit five 3-pointers, connecting on his first five attempts in both contests. Of the 24 field goals he's made in conference, 19 have been 3-pointers.

Costello With The Rejection
Since returning from missing four games with mono, Matt Costello is proving his worth in the Spartan lineup, especially on the defensive end. In 11 conference games, he has totaled 20 blocks (1.8 bpg), ranking tied for fifth in the Big Ten. Overall, he ranks eighth in the conference at 1.7 bpg (33). As his conditioning improves, however, he's also showing some offense, averaging 7.1 points in the last nine games, including scoring 11 vs. Iowa, 10 vs. Penn State, nine vs. Michigan and eight at Illinois.

Izzo Moves Up Big Ten Coaching List
With MSU's 78-62 win at Illinois, Tom Izzo passed Illinois' Lou Henson for sole possesion of fourth place on the Big Ten career victories list with 215 wins. Izzo currently stands at 218 career Big Ten wins. In MSU's 73-56 win at Indiana, Izzo moved past IU's Branch McCracken for fifth place on the career Big Ten victories list with 211. Indiana's Bob Knight is the all-time leader with 353 Big Ten wins. Ward Lambert ranks third with 228 wins, while Gene Keady is second at 265.

Spartans Hit The Mark
Michigan State ranks third in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage at .468. The Spartans have shot 50 percent or better in eight games, including a season-high .631 against Mount St. Mary's. Against North Florida, MSU shot 70.8 percent in the first half. MSU has shot better than its opponent in all but two times this season.

Renewed Defensive Commitment
Following Michigan State's loss to North Carolina, Coach Izzo took the blame on himself, feeling he overreacted to some of the new rules designed to limit physical play and increase scoring, and vowed to correct that. In the 15 games since the loss, MSU is holding its opponents to 62.9 points and a .383 field-goal percentage, including .315 from 3-point range. In a related stat regarding MSU's return to basics, the Spartans own a +5.1 rebounding margin over the last 16 games. During this stretch, MSU has played nine games away from home, including at Texas, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin, and owns a home win over No. 3 Ohio State.

Three 15-Point Scorers
With Gary Harris (17.6 ppg), Adreian Payne (16.4 ppg) and Keith Appling (15.0 ppg), Michigan State is one of just six schools in the nation with three 15-point scorers. Other schools include Iowa State, VMI, Delaware, Temple, and Cal.-State Northridge.

Big Ten Success
Michigan State has captured at least a share of the Big Ten Championship in three of the last five seasons. After winning the title outright in 2009, the Spartans shared the conference crown in 2010 and 2012. In 2012, MSU also added a Big Ten Tournament title to its resume. During Tom Izzo's tenure, the Spartans have won seven regular-season titles and three tournament crowns.

Big Ten Success, Part II
Michigan State has won 13 Big Ten Championships, including three of the last five, since joining the league prior to the 1950-51 season. The Spartans' first ever league game was at Northwestern, where MSU claimed a 67-62 victory on Jan. 6, 1951. All-time, MSU is 576-457 (.558) in league play, including 218-97 (.692) under Tom Izzo, who ranks fourth in league history with 218 conference wins. Izzo has guided MSU to seven of its 13 league crowns. Since Izzo's first season (1995-96), MSU has a Big Ten-best record of 218-97, 20 games better than second-place Wisconsin (198-117).

Payne From Deep
Through the first 87 games of his career, Adreian Payne shot just 1-of-4 from 3-point range. Over the last 37 games, he is 36-of-86 (.419), averaging nearly one made 3-pointer per contest. On 10 occasions, including seven times this season, he's made more than one in a game.

Double-Double Trouble
Six different Spartans have collected a total of 15 double-doubles this season. Branden Dawson (vs. McNeese State 12 pts., 12 reb.; vs. Virginia Tech 12 pts., 10 reb.; vs. Oklahoma 18 pts., 10 reb.; vs. Oakland 16 pts., 13 reb.; vs. Texas 11 pts., 10 reb.) leads the team with five, while Adreian Payne (vs. McNeese State 10 pts., 10 reb.; vs. Columbia 26 pts., 11 reb.; vs. Virginia Tech 29 pts., 10 reb.; vs. Oakland 20 pts., 10 reb.) has four. Denzel Valentine (vs. New Orleans 10 pts., 13 reb.; vs. Illinois 15 pts., 11 reb.; vs. Penn State 11 pts., 11 reb.) has three, while Gary Harris (vs. McNeese State 20 pts., 10 reb.), Keith Appling (vs. Michigan 10 pts., 10 asts.) and Matt Costello (vs. Iowa 11 points, 12 rebounds) each have one. Dawson ranks tied for third in the Big Ten, while Payne is tied for fifth. No other Big Ten team has more than four different players with a double-double.

Guard Rebounds
For the Spartans to maintain their reputation as a strong rebounding team, they will need a strong effort from their guards. In fact, three of MSU's four leading rebounders play on the perimeter. Branden Dawson is averaging a team-best 8.7 rebounds, ranking second in the Big Ten, from the wing. Denzel Valentine (6.3 rpg) ranks third on the team, and Gary Harris (4.6 rpg) ranks fourth. Either Dawson or Valentine has led the Spartans in rebounding in 19 of 24 games.

20-Point Spartans
Four different Spartans have scored 20 points or more in a game this season. Gary Harris (27 vs. Michigan, 26 vs. Indiana, 24 vs. Indiana, 23 vs. Illinois, 21 vs. Oklahoma, 20 vs. McNeese State, 20 vs. Kentucky, 20 vs. Georgetown) leads the way with eight 20-point efforts, while Keith Appling (27 vs. New Orleans, 27 vs. Oklahoma, 25 vs. Portland, 24 vs. Minnesota, 22 vs. Kentucky, 21 vs. Oakland, 20 vs. Ohio State) has seven and Adreian Payne (33 vs. Texas, 29 vs. Virginia Tech, 26 vs. Columbia, 24 vs. Wisconsin, 20 vs. Oakland) has five. Branden Dawson joined the club with 20 points vs. Penn State in the Big Ten opener.

Outside Shooting
Michigan State is shooting .381 from 3-point range (189-of-496), ranking second in the Big Ten. Five Spartans (Gary Harris-49, Keith Appling-32, Travis Trice-31, Kenny Kaminski-26, Adreian Payne-20) each average more than one made 3-pointer per game. Individually, Trice ranks third in the conference in 3-point field-goal percentage (.431), while Appling ranks eighth (.405). Payne (.444) would rank second if he had played in enough games. The Spartans have made 10 or more 3-pointers in nine games, after doing it just once last season, ranking second in the Big Ten in 3-point field goals per game (7.9). In conference games, MSU is shooting .387, ranking second, while ranking second with 7.8 makes per contest. Last season, the Spartans shot .338 from 3-point range, hitting 177-of-523. The 2003-04 squad was the best shooting team of the Tom Izzo era, shooting .401, while the 1989-90 squad shot a school-record .431.

On The Run
Michigan State is eager to get out in transition this season, even more so than normal. Speaking at MSU's annual media day, Izzo told the assembled media "I think we should be a team that can run, run, run and run." Through 24 games, MSU is averaging 77.7 points per game, ranking second in the Big Ten, including 15.5 points in transition. This includes a dominating 21-2 edge in fast break points against Kentucky.

Spartans At The Charity Stripe
Michigan State is shooting .692 from the foul line this season. The three Spartans that attempt the most free throws (Appling-119 attempts, .706; Payne-69 attempts, .797; Harris-100 attempts, .780) are each shooting 70 percent or better from the foul line. In fact, the three are shooting a combined .753 (217-288) from the foul line.

Appling Runs The Team
Senior Keith Appling is in his third season as Michigan State's starting point guard, gaining more confidence each season. He's finished in the Top 10 in the Big Ten in assists in each of the last two seasons, but he spoke this offseason about becoming better at running his team, gaining praise from Coach Izzo for his development. He's averaging a career-best 4.9 assists per game and owns a 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio. In a win over No. 1 Kentucky, Appling dished out eight assists, in addition to his 22 points and eight rebounds. Coach Izzo described Appling's 25-point, seven-assist effort vs. Portland "one of the greatest point guard performances in many, many, many years when you look at what he shot and the decisions he made. He did just an unbelievable job defensively ... He was worth the price of admission." He paced MSU with a career-high 27 points vs. Oklahoma, earning Coaches Vs. Cancer Classic MVP honors. He scored a team-high 21 points vs. Oakland, including 18 points in the second half. He matched his career high with 27 points against New Orleans, adding eight assists, earning co-Big Ten Player of the Week honors on Dec. 30. In an overtime win against No. 3 Ohio State, Appling led the Spartans in scoring (20 points) and assists (7) and tied for the team lead in rebounds (6). He followed with a game-high 24 points vs. Minnesota, including eight points (8-8 FT) in overtime. Against Michigan, he recorded his first career double-double with 10 points and a career-high 10 assists. He's led MSU in scoring in nine games and in assists 16 times. The Spartans are a perfect 9-0 when Appling leads the team in scoring.

Valentine And Trice Are Key Contributors
Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine were not in the starting lineup at the beginning of the season when MSU had its full complement of players, but in the eyes of Coach Izzo, they might as well have been. Izzo has regularly referred to the duo as "super subs." Valentine ranks fifth on the team in scoring (7.7 ppg) and third in minutes (28.7 mpg), while Trice ranks sixth in scoring (6.9 ppg) and minutes (21.3 mpg). Valentine (3.8 apg) is second in assist average, while Trice (2.3 apg) is fourth. Due to different injuries and ailments, Valentine ranks third on the team with 19 starts, including 16 straight, while Trice has started five games.

MSU's Super Sophomore
Following a season that saw him earn Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors, Gary Harris is looking for an even better season as a sophomore. After opting to return to Michigan State for his sophomore season rather than enter the NBA Draft, Harris entered 2013-14 as the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year honoree and a popular pick for preseason All-America accolades. He opened the season by recording his first career double-double with 20 points, a career-high 10 rebounds and dishing out a career-high six assists. He followed that effort with another 20-point contest against No. 1 Kentucky. He leads the team and ranks third in the Big Ten in scoring, averaging 17.6 points per contest, scoring 20 or more points in a team-best eight games. During the non-conference, he missed three games (Mount St. Mary's, Oakland and North Florida) while resting an injured ankle.

Playing The Best
Since the 1997-98 season, the year of MSU's first of 16 straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, the Spartans have played 180 games against ranked opponents. That total ranks first among teams that have appeared in a Final Four since then. The Spartans are followed by North Carolina (163), Duke (156), Kentucky (155), and Connecticut (146).

Payne's Block Party
Senior Adreian Payne ranks second in Michigan State history with 129 career blocks, just five behind MSU career leader Drew Naymick (134 blocks). Payne blocked a career-best five shots in the third round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament against Memphis, en route to 46 on the season, good for the sixth-best single-season effort in school history.

Dawson's Energy On Display
Branden Dawson didn't miss a game last season despite tearing his ACL at the end of his freshman year, and yet he wasn't functioning at 100 percent. He has been a much more active player this season, exhibiting the rare combination of strength and athleticism that rank him among the Big Ten's elite. He is currently averaging a team-best 8.7 rebounds, ranking second in the Big Ten and leading the team in 12 of 18 games in which he's played, and 10.2 points. His tip-in with five seconds remaining sealed the win over No. 1 Kentucky. Dawson leads the team with five double-doubles. He also ranks second in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage (.604). Dawson is out 4-5 weeks after breaking a bone in his right hand on Jan. 23.

Nation's Best Backcourt
With Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Branden Dawson often in the starting lineup and Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine coming off the bench, Michigan State stakes a strong claim for having the nation's best backcourt. All five rank among MSU's top six in scoring, while Appling, Harris, Dawson and Trice have each scored 20 or more points at least once during their career. Not only are they dynamic offensively, they also can provide lockdown defense. With Appling and Harris, MSU features the only team in the nation with two backcourt players on the 23-man midseason watch list for the Oscar Robertson Trophy.

It's All About Boardwork
Michigan State has led the nation in rebounding in four of the last 14 seasons (2000, 2001, 2009, 2010), ranking in the Top 10 nine times and the Top 25 on 12 occasions. MSU has led the Big Ten in rebounding margin in conference games in 11 of the last 16 years. In the Tom Izzo era, MSU has out-rebounded 492 of 641 opponents (.768), posting a 391-101 (.795) mark in those games. Last season, the Spartans out-rebounded 32 of 36 opponents. This season, MSU owns a +4.5 rebounding margin, ranking third in the Big Ten, and has out-rebounded 15 of 24 opponents, posting a 14-1 mark when grabbing more rebounds.

Returning Productivity
MSU returns six of its top seven scorers from last season, in featuring one of the nation's most experienced rosters to start the season. The Spartans return 84.2 percent of their scoring, 79.3 percent of their rebounding and 84.0 percent of their assists. Five returning Spartans started 15 or more games last season, including four with 24 or more starts. Six returners played 500 or more minutes last season. By comparison, entering last year, just five Spartans had played more than 350 minutes in their career.

Robertson Trophy Watch List
Senior guard Keith Appling and sophomore guard Gary Harris are two of 23 players named to the 2013-14 Oscar Robertson Trophy Midseason Watch List. The list was selected by the board of directors of the United States Basketball Writers Association. Michigan State is one of six schools with two players on the list of 15. The award will be presented to the national player of the year by its namesake at the Devon Energy College Basketball Awards on April 14, 2014 in Oklahoma City.

MSU In The Rankings
The Spartans are currently ranked No. 9 in the Associated Press Top 25 and No. 10 in the USA Today Coaches' Poll. Seven Spartan opponents are also ranked in at least one of the polls, including Kentucky (14 AP/13 USA Today), Michigan (15/18), Iowa (16/15), Texas (19/19), Wisconsin (21/21), Ohio State (22/20), and Oklahoma (-/25).

Wooden And Naismith Award Watch Lists
Keith Appling and Adreian Payne have each earned a spot on the John R. Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 list. The Spartans are one of four schools to have two players on the list. The players on the list are considered strong candidates for the official voting ballot, which will consist of approximately 20 top players who have proven to their universities that they are also making progress toward graduation and maintaining at least a cumulative 2.0 GPA. Players not on the midseason list are still eligible to appear on the ballot. The Wooden Award All American Team, consisting of the nation's top 10 players, will be announced the week of the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament. Gary Harris and Payne have also been named to the Naismith Trophy Early Season Watch List.

Cousy Award Watch List
Senior Keith Appling is one of 47 players on the watch list of candidates for the 2014 Bob Cousy Collegiate Point Guard of the Year Award. The annual honor, named for Hall of Famer and former Boston Celtic Bob Cousy, recognizes the top point guards in men's college basketball. This watch list of candidates will be narrowed down to a final 20 in early February, then final five by early March. The Cousy Award winner will be presented the award on Championship Monday in Dallas at the Hall of Fame's Class of 2014 Announcement and Press Conference.

1,000-Point Scorers
With 24 points against Wisconsin, Adreian Payne become the 44th player in Michigan State history to reach 1,000 points for his career. Last season, Keith Appling became the 43rd player in MSU history to record 1,000 career points, and just the 29th player to reach the milestone in three seasons. With 1,448 career points, Appling ranks 20th in MSU career scoring, 20 points behind Charlie Bell (1,468 points). With 1,002 points for his career, Payne is 26 points behind Kevin Smith (1,028 points) for 43rd in MSU history.

MSU's Center Rotation
Sophomore Matt Costello has been the starting center in 16 games, but redshirt junior Alex Gauna and Gavin Schilling are also in contention for the spot. The trio is averaging a combined 8.4 points and 7.1 rebounds.

MSU At No. 1
Earlier this season, Michigan State held the No. 1 spot in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches Polls for three straight weeks for the first time in school history. Although the Spartans have been ranked in the Top 10 in 15 of Tom Izzo's 19 seasons, and the Top 5 in 11 seasons, this was just the second season under Coach Izzo, and just the third time in school history that MSU has held the top spot in the AP Top 25, having previously been ranked No. 1 for two weeks in both 1978-79 and 2000-01. The Spartans have an all-time record of 9-4 at No. 1.

Big Ten Strength
Once again, the Big Ten will make a strong claim as the toughest conference in college basketball, an honor bestowed on it by ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman on Nov. 5. Five conference teams are currently ranked in the USA Today Coaches Poll, including No. 10 Michigan State, No. 15 Iowa, No. 18 Michigan, No. 20 Ohio State and No. 21 Wisconsin. Last season, seven of the 12 league teams participated in the NCAA Tournament, with a total of nine in postseason play.

Spartan Freshmen
Michigan State could feature as many as three freshmen in its playing group, including red-shirt freshman Kenny Kaminski, and true freshmen Alvin Ellis III and Gavin Schilling. Kaminski redshirted last season following a shoulder injury he suffered last fall. He provides a big man with excellent shooting ability for the Spartans. Ellis III and Schilling were actually prep teammates as juniors at Chicago De La Salle High School before Schilling transferred to Findlay Prep in Nevada for his senior season. Ellis III provides a solid all-around presence on the perimeter, while Schilling provides great strength and quickness in the post. Both Ellis III and Schilling were added during the spring signing period in 2013.

THE BOOK ON TOM IZZO
Coach Izzo

In his 19th year, Tom Izzo (Northern Michigan, '77) is 459-182 (.716), and 218-97 (.692) in the Big Ten, as the coach of the Michigan State basketball program. He ranks as the winningest coach in Michigan State history, having passed his mentor Jud Heathcote with his 341st career victory on Nov. 28, 2009. In his 18 seasons as a head coach, Izzo has captured eight National Coach of the Year awards, including the Clair Bee Award in 2005 and NABC honors in 2001 and 2012. In 1999, Izzo was named National Coach of the year by Basketball Times, while earning similar honors from The Associated Press, Basketball News and the USBWA in '98. He also earned National Coach of the Year accolades from CBSSports.com in 2012. He earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors in 1998, 2009 and 2012.

Among The Big Ten's Best
Tom Izzo's .692 winning percentage in Big Ten games ranks third all-time among league coaches with at least 10 years of service, behind former Indiana coach Bob Knight (.700), and Wisconsin's Bo Ryan (.698), and ahead of former Purdue coach Ward Lambert (.685). In all games, Knight ranks first at .734, followed by Ryan (.724), Izzo (.716), Wisconsin's Walter Meanwell (.712), and Lambert (.709). With 218 conference victories, Izzo ranks fourth all-time.

Izzo Among Best Ever
Through his first 18 seasons, Tom Izzo won 439 games, ranking fourth in college basketball history for most wins by a college coach in his first 18 years.

Izzo's Coaching Tree
Five current Division I head coaches all served as assistants to Tom Izzo, including Tom Crean (Indiana), Brian Gregory (Georgia Tech), Stan Heath (South Florida), Mark Montgomery (Northern Illinois) and Doug Wojcik (College of Charleston). Mike Garland served as head coach at Cleveland State for three seasons and Stan Joplin, an assistant during Izzo's first season, spent 12 seasons as head coach at Toledo. Jim Boylen was head coach at Utah for four years.