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MICHIGAN STATE: Men's Basketball Hosts Illinois On Saturday

March 1, 2014


#18/18 Michigan State (22-6, 11-4) vs. Illinois (16-12, 5-10)
 Date Saturday, March 1, 2014
 Time 4 p.m. ET
 Location East Lansing, Mich. | Breslin Center
 Television ESPN2 (Bob Wischusen, Dan Dakich)
 Radio Spartan Sports Network (Will Tieman, Gus Ganakas, Matt Steigenga)
 Game Notes Michigan State
 Statistics  Michigan State | Illinois
 Internet Coverage  Gametracker | Live Stats (Mobile Users)


 Social Media @MSU_Basketball   |  Facebook

Michigan State looks to bounce back from defeat as it hosts Illinois. The Illini enter the contest on their first winning streak since the first week of January. The Spartans are coming off their longest break between games since the start of Big Ten play and could possibly feature a complete lineup for the first time since Jan. 4.

1. The Complete Package

Gary Harrisgets a lot of notoriety for his scoring, as he ranks second in the Big Ten (17.9 ppg). But what makes him special is his ability to be a difference maker on both ends of the court, leading the Spartans with 49 steals, ranking third in the conference (2.0 spg). In Big Ten action, he ranks fourth in scoring (17.7 ppg) and second in steals (2.4 spg).

2. Bouncing Back From Defeat
Michigan State is 5-0 following a loss this season. The Spartans are averaging 79.8 points in games after a loss, shooting .483 from the field and .463 from 3-point range. Adreian Payneis averaging a team-best 18.8 points in those five games.

3. Dawson's Return
Branden Dawsonreturned to practice this week for the first time since breaking his right hand on Jan. 23. The Spartans are 18-1 with Dawson, averaging 78.7 points on .473 shooting, while holding opponents to 64.8 points and a .384 field-goal percentage. MSU is also averaging 7.9 steals and 5.2 blocks with Dawson in the lineup. Without Dawson, MSU is averaging 74.7 points on .470 shooting, while allowing 67.6 points on .416 shooting, as the Spartans average just 5.8 steals and 3.8 blocks. During the last nine games that Dawson missed since breaking his hand, MSU is allowing 69.8 points on .433 shooting. In the last two games, MSU is allowing 79.0 points, as opponents are shooting .495 from the field, including .455 from 3-point range.

4. Payne Returns With A Bang
After missing seven games with a right foot sprain, Adreian Paynehas been a force in his return, averaging 17.0 points and 7.5 rebounds in six games. He's started the last five contests, averaging 18.0 points and 8.4 rebounds, including scoring 24 points against Wisconsin, 20 against Northwestern, adding 14 rebounds against the Wildcats, and 23 points at Purdue. In six games, he's shooting .529 from the field, .400 from 3-point range and .647 from the foul line, averaging 27.5 minutes. He's posted a double-double in two of the six games.

5. 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 28 opponents are shooting .395 from the floor, ranking first in the Big Ten and 23rd in the nation (NCAA stats through Feb. 23), including .327 from 3-point range, ranking sixth in the conference. In conference games, MSU ranks first in field-goal percentage defense (.409) and blocks (5.1 bpg), second in steals (6.8 spg), and sixth in scoring defense (66.3 ppg).

Series History

Michigan State leads the all-time series with Illinois, 57-56, including a 36-18 advantage in games played in East Lansing. MSU has won eight of the last 11 against Illinois and 10 of the last 14. Fifteen of the last 16 games in the series have been decided by 10 points or less. Tom Izzois 20-14 in his career against the Illini.

Coach Groce
John Groce (Taylor, '94) is 124-81 in his sixth season as a head coach, including 39-25 in his second season at Illinois. Prior to his arrival in Champaign, Groce spent four seasons at Ohio University, leading the Bobcats to an 85-56 mark. In 2011-12, he directed Ohio to a 29-8 record, advancing to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. His coaching career includes stints as an assistant at Taylor, North Carolina State, Butler, Xavier and Ohio State.

The Last Meeting
Michigan State defeated Illinois, 78-62, on Jan. 18, 2014, in Champaign. Leading 24-22, MSU closed the first half on an 11-3 run over the final 4:02, including six late points from Gary Harris, to take a 35-25 lead into the break. Illinois made one final push, cutting the Spartan lead to six points at 59-53 with 6:09 remaining. Keith Appling then scored six straight points, pushing the lead back to 12 points, as Illinois could never get closer than nine points after that. Harris led MSU with 23 points, shooting 7-of-9 from the field, including 2-of-4 from 3-point range. Denzel Valentineadded 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Appling scored 15. Tracy Abrams led Illinois with 15 points. MSU shot 55.8 percent, compared to 37.7 percent for Illinois, with the Spartans holding a +13 edge on the glass.

The Last Meeting In East Lansing
Michigan State defeated Illinois, 80-75, on Jan. 31, 2013, in East Lansing. Illinois scored the first eight points of the game and held the lead for entire first half. MSU trimmed the deficit to three points with under three minutes left, but the Illini scored the next seven points in taking a 37-27 halftime lead. Turnovers were the story of the first half, as MSU committed nine, while Illinois committed only one. The Spartans opened the second half on a 14-0 run, as Illinois committed four turnovers in the first four minutes of the second half. MSU never led by more than eight points, but Illinois could never retake the lead. The Spartans were remarkably efficient in the second half, making 87.5 percent (14-of-16) of their shots. The two teams combined for three free throw attempts in the first half and 46 in the second half. Keith Applingled all scorers with 24 points, including 19 in the second half, as he scored or assisted on 11 of MSU's 14 second-half field goals. Tracy Abrams led Illinois with 16 points.

Illini Notes
Illinois enters the game on a two-game winning streak, its first winning streak since winning four straight between Dec. 21 and Jan. 4 ... Illinois is holding its last three opponents to 48.7 ppg ... Nnanna Egwu ranks second in the Big Ten in blocked shots (2.2 bpg) ... Rayvonte Rice ranks tied for eighth in the Big Ten in scoring (16.0 ppg) ... Kendrick Nunn is the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Week, and is averaging 13.0 ppg in starting the last five games.

Michigan State jumped out to a 22-11 lead midway through the first half, capped by a three-point play from Adreian Payne. On MSU's next possession, however, Keith Appling picked up his second foul and sat the bench for the rest of the half. Michigan immediately responded with a 10-0 run. Still, MSU took a 36-34 lead into the half, although the Wolverines carried momentum into the locker room as Caris LeVert answered a Gary Harrisdunk with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. The second half was back-and-forth early, with MSU taking a 52-51 lead with 10:26 left, as Harris banked in a 3-pointer. UM answered with a 13-0 run, including two threes from Nik Stauskas and seven points from LeVert to take a commanding 64-52 lead. MSU could not get any closer than eight points after that.

* Michigan became the first team to shoot 50 percent (27-54) from the field this season against MSU. * For the first time all season, MSU lost when shooting better than 50 percent from the field (.542).
* MSU committed 13 turnovers, compared to just three for Michigan, resulting in a 14-0 edge in points off turnovers for the Wolverines.
* Michigan State recorded a season-low one steal.
* For the second time in four games, Denzel Valentinehit 3-of-3 3-pointers, matching his career high.

Lending A Helping Hand

Michigan State is averaging 17.3 assists on the season, pacing the Big Ten and ranking fifth in the nation. With 485 assists on 774 made field goals, the Spartans are recording an assist on 62.7 percent of their baskets. MSU ranks first in the Big Ten and seventh nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.5) (NCAA stats through Feb. 23). Keith Appling is second in the conference in assists (4.8 apg) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.4). Four Spartans average two or more assists as Denzel Valentine (3.9 apg), Gary Harris (2.8 apg), and Travis Trice(2.4 apg) join Appling.

Breslin Advantage
Michigan State is 338-49 (.873) at home all-time since Breslin Center opened in 1989, including 176-37 (.826) in Big Ten play. Under Tom Izzo, the Spartans are 264-34 (.886) at Breslin, including a 135-24 (.849) conference record. MSU has won 45 of the last 50 (.900) games at Breslin.

Outside Shooting
Michigan State is shooting .388 from 3-point range (231-of-596), ranking second in the Big Ten. Six Spartans (Gary Harris-62 (2.5), Travis Trice-41 (1.6), Keith Appling-32 (1.3), Kenny Kaminski-30 (1.4), Adreian Payne-26 (1.2), Denzel Valentine-28 (1.0)) each average at least one made 3-pointer per game. Individually, Kaminski ranks second in the conference in 3-point field-goal percentage (.462), while Trice ranks third (.451), Payne ranks fifth (.426) and Appling ranks 10th (.395). The Spartans have made 10 or more 3-pointers in 11 games, after doing it just once last season, ranking second in the Big Ten in 3-point field goals per game (8.3). In conference games, MSU is shooting .399, ranking first, while also pacing the Big Ten with 8.5 makes per contest. The Spartans established a school single-game record with 17 made 3-pointers at Purdue, tying the Big Ten record for a conference game. On the season, MSU's 231 made 3-pointers already rank as the second-best single-season total in school history, trailing only the 1999-2000 squad (253). 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 Izzoera, shooting .401, while the 1989-90 squad shot a school-record .431.

Payne From Deep
Through the first 87 games of his career, Adreian Payneshot just 1-of-4 from 3-point range. Over the last 41 games, he is 42-of-102 (.412), averaging more than one made 3-pointer per contest. On 12 occasions, including nine times this season, he's made more than one in a game.

Trice Runs The Point
Travis Trice filled in admirably at the point in place of an injured Keith Appling, as Trice started five of the last six games, with Appling missing three of them. In those five starts, he averaged 9.2 points, 4.4 assists and 2.6 rebounds, totaling 22 assists and just two turnovers in 150 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.

Taking Care Of The Ball
Michigan State is on pace to shatter the mark for fewest turnovers during the Tom Izzoera. MSU is currently averaging 11.2 turnovers, including just 10.7 in conference. The previous low during the Izzo era was 13.0 in 2011-12. The Spartans are 13-3 when committing fewer turnovers than their opponent. MSU ranks sixth in the Big Ten in turnover margin (+1.4), out-scoring opponents by +2.3 points per game (14.9-12.6) in points off turnovers.

Rotating Starting Lineup, Part 1
Michigan State has used 14 different starting lineups this season, as 10 different Spartans have started at least one game. Six different players, and each one of MSU's top four scorers, have missed multiple games due to injury or illness, for a total of 29 games missed. In 19 of 28 games, and 13 of 15 Big Ten contests, MSU has been without its full allotment of players due to injury. In nine games, the Spartans have been without at least two of their regular rotation players. The only game lost due to an injury suffered in practice was Branden Dawsonmissing the Dec. 28 game vs. New Orleans with a shin bruise, as he sat out just as a precaution. The good news for Michigan State is that the Spartans expect everyone back and healthy for the close of the regular season and the start of postseason play.

Rotating Starting Lineup, Part 2
Michigan State has used 14 different starting lineups in the last 23 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 28 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 recently returned 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 has not played since, and Appling has a sore right wrist, first suffered against North Carolina, which forced him to miss three of the last five games.

Valentine's Versatility
Denzel Valentineis one of just two Spartans to appear in all 28 games, and the only one to appear in every contest averaging more than 10 minutes (29.3 mpg - third on the team). He is the only player in the Big Ten to rank among the top 10 in both rebounding (t-9th, 6.3 rpg) and assists (t-6th, 3.9 apg). In conference games, he ranks second in the Big Ten in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.5) and fourth in rebounding (7.0 rpg). He's even elevated his play as of late, scoring in double figures in eight of the last 11 games, averaging 9.4 points and 7.6 rebounds. He's led MSU in assists in 11 games and in rebounding 10 times.

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.

Payne's Senior Season
After opting to bypass the NBA Draft and return to Michigan State, Adreian Payneis 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 (7.7 rpg), ranking seventh in the conference in scoring and second in rebounding. He's posted a double-double in six games this season and 12 of his last 32 dating back to last season. Against Texas, he scored a career-high 33 points. 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. Since his return, he's posted the first back-to-back 20-point games of his career with 24 points vs. Wisconsin and 20 vs. Northwestern, and with his 23 points at Purdue, he has scored 20 or more points in three of his five starts since injury, with two double-doubles.

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.

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 13 games, Costello is averaging 6.5 points and 4.2 rebounds and Valentine is averaging 9.5 points and 7.5 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 Byrdstepped 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 (5), 90's (5), 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.

Appling Paces The Big Ten
Keith Applinghas 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 five occasions combined. The Spartan senior also paces the Big Ten with three games of at least 20 points, 7 assists and five rebounds.

Kaminski For Three
Redshirt freshman Kenny Kaminskiis quickly establishing himself as one of the top shooters in the conference. On the season, he is shooting .462 (30-65) from 3-point range, ranking second in the Big Ten. He's been equally prolific in conference play, connecting on 23-of-51 attempts (.451) from behind the arc, ranking fourth in the conference in 3-point field-goal percentage. In two games (vs. Minnesota and Penn State) Kaminski hit five 3-pointers, connecting on his first five attempts in both contests.

Costello With The Rejection
Since returning from missing four games with mono, Matt Costellois proving his worth in the Spartan lineup, especially on the defensive end. In 15 conference games, he has totaled 20 blocks (1.3 bpg), ranking tied for eighth in the Big Ten. Overall, he ranks ninth in the conference at 1.4 bpg (33 blocks). As his conditioning improves, however, he's also showing some offense, averaging 6.5 points in the last 13 games, including scoring 11 vs. Iowa, 10 vs. Penn State, nine vs. Michigan and Northwestern and eight at Illinois.

Izzo Moves Up Big Ten Coaching List
With MSU's 78-62 win at Illinois, Tom Izzopassed Illinois' Lou Henson for sole possesion of fourth place on the Big Ten career victories list with 215 wins. Izzo currently stands at 220 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 second in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage at .472. The Spartans have shot 50 percent or better in nine 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 four games this season.

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'stenure, 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 578-459 (.557) in league play, including 220-99 (.690) under Tom Izzo, who ranks fourth in league history with 220 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 220-99, 18 games better than second-place Wisconsin (202-117).

Double-Double Trouble
Six different Spartans have collected a total of 16 double-doubles this season. Adreian Payne leads the team with six, including two since his return from injury, while Branden Dawson has five. Denzel Valentine has three, while Gary Harris, Keith Appling and Matt Costelloeach have one. Payne ranks tied for second in the Big Ten, while Dawson is tied for fourth. No other Big Ten team has more than four different players with a double-double.

20-Point Spartans
Four different Spartans have scored 20 points or more in a game this season. Gary Harris leads the way with 10 20-point efforts, tying for the conference lead, while Keith Appling and Adreian Payne each have seven. Branden Dawsonjoined the club with 20 points at Penn State in the Big Ten opener. (Complete list of 20-point efforts on page 10.)

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 28 games, MSU is averaging 77.3 points per game, ranking second in the Big Ten.

Spartans At The Charity Stripe
MSU is shooting .695 from the foul line this season. The three Spartans that attempt the most free throws (Appling-122 attempts, .697; Harris-116 attempts, .802; Payne-95 attempts, .747) are shooting a combined .748 (249-333) from the free throw line.

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 from the wing. Denzel Valentine (6.3 rpg) ranks third on the team, and Gary Harris(4.3 rpg) ranks fourth. Either Dawson or Valentine has led the Spartans in rebounding in 20 of 28 games.

Appling Runs The Team
Senior Keith Applingis 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 4.8 assists per game and owns a 2.4 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. Most recently, he came off the bench at Purdue to dish out nine assists. He's led MSU in scoring in nine games and in assists 17 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 Valentinewere 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 (8.3 ppg) and third in minutes (29.3 mpg), while Trice ranks sixth in scoring (7.1 ppg) and minutes (22.2 mpg). Valentine (3.9 apg) is second in assist average, while Trice (2.4 apg) is fourth. Due to different injuries and ailments, Valentine ranks third on the team with 23 starts, including 20 straight, while Trice has started eight games, including five of the last six.

MSU's Super Sophomore
Following a season that saw him earn Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors, Gary Harrisis 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 second in the Big Ten in scoring, averaging 17.9 points per contest, scoring 20 or more points in a team-best 10 games, matching Nik Stauskas (Michigan), and Terran Petteway (Nebraska), for most in the conference. 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 181 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 (165), Duke (157), Kentucky (156), and Connecticut (147).

Payne's Block Party
Senior Adreian Payne ranks second in Spartan history with 130 career blocks, just four 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 Dawsondidn'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, 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 is tied for the team lead with five double-doubles. Dawson has missed nine straight games since breaking a bone in his right hand on Jan. 23. He ranked second in the Big Ten in rebounding and field-goal percentage (.604) before dropping out of the rankings due to missing too many games due to injury.

Nation's Best Backcourt
With Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Branden Dawson often in the starting lineup and Travis Trice and Denzel Valentinecoming 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 and the 30-man Naismith Trophy List.

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 Izzoera, MSU has out-rebounded 496 of 645 opponents (.769), posting a 394-102 (.794) mark in those games. Last season, the Spartans out-rebounded 32 of 36 opponents. This season, MSU owns a +4.8 rebounding margin, ranking third in the Big Ten, and has out-rebounded 19 of 28 opponents, posting a 16-3 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 Harrisare 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. 18 in the Associated Press Top 25 and the USA Today Coaches' Poll. Seven Spartan opponents are also ranked in at least one of the polls, including Wisconsin (14/14), Michigan (16/16), Kentucky (17/15), North Carolina (19/21), Iowa (20/19), Ohio State (22/20), and Texas (24/23).

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