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December 7, 2007

Michigan State expects battle at BYU

BYU has been one of the nation's biggest early season surprises, getting off to a 7-1 start that includes a victory over Louisville and a close tussle with top-ranked North Carolina.

The Cougars have climbed into The Associated Press poll at No. 20, and they'll put their ranking on the line in Salt Lake City against No. 9 Michigan State at 4 p.m. EST Saturday.

BYU center Trent Plaisted is having a breakout season. Plaisted, a 6-foot-11 junior who is a two-time All-Mountain West Conference second-team selection, is on a pace for much higher honors. He is averaging 17.6 points and 9.4 rebounds to lead the Cougars in both categories. Plaisted had 21 points and 12 rebounds in the 78-76 upset of then-No. 6 Louisville, and he followed with 24 points and 17 rebounds against the Tar Heels.

The Spartans will send the two-headed center monster of Goran Suton and Drew Naymick at Plaisted. Both are quality players with different strengths who figure to be a good match for the Cougars' big man.

There are plenty of other intriguing matchups as well. Here's a closer look at the Cougars-Spartans game.

Game of the Week: No. 20 BYU (7-1) vs. No. 9 Michigan State (7-1) in Salt Lake City
Michigan State's Travis Walton vs. BYU's Ben Murdock
EDGE: Michigan State Walton, a 6-2 junior, is one of the best on-ball defenders in the Big Ten. His jobs are to defend and distribute (4.1 assists per game), and little else. His scoring is negligible (3.0 points per game in 20.6 minutes per game), but it's not necessary to the Spartans' success. Murdock, a 6-2 senior, has been a pleasant surprise for the Cougars. A backup who averaged only 7.3 minutes last season, he's averaging 28.1 minutes this season and has an off-the-charts 4.6-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Drew Neitzel vs. Sam Burgess
EDGE: Michigan State Neitzel, a 6-foot senior, is averaging 14.1 points, down from 18.1 a year ago. But he's still a dangerous scorer (44.4 percent from 3-point range) who can get hot at any time. Burgess, a 6-3 senior, is another Cougar who came off the bench a year ago but has worked his way into the starting lineup this season. He's averaging 9.8 points and shooting 50 percent from 3-point range.
Goran Suton vs. Trent Plaisted
EDGE: BYU Suton, a 6-10 junior, is averaging 8.9 points and 8.5 rebounds, and has two double-doubles. He has been effective for the Spartans, especially on the boards. Plaisted has been dominant at times for the Cougars. The big left-hander comes off a game against Weber state in which he had 14 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks.
Raymar Morgan vs. Lee Cummard
EDGE: Michigan State Morgan, a 6-7 sophomore, is emerging as the go-to guy for the Spartans. He leads them in scoring (17.6 points) and is second in rebounding (7.9). Cummard, a 6-6 junior, averages 14.1 points and 6.1 rebounds. He can shoot the 3-pointer, and he's a solid defender.
Marquise Gray vs. Jonathan Tavernari
EDGE: BYU Gray, a 6-8 junior, is a physical, inside player who won't stray too far from the basket on the offensive end. He's the Spartans' leader in field-goal percentage (70.3), and he's averaging 7.8 points and 5.3 rebounds. Tavernari, a 6-6 sophomore, is a terrific outside shooter with one of the quickest releases in college basketball. He's averaging 15.8 points and 3.3 3-pointers per game.
EDGE: Michigan State The Spartans' biggest edge in this game probably is its deep bench. Nine players are averaging at least 14 minutes per game, compared to seven for the Cougars. Michigan State has 27.2 points on its bench, BYU 21.3. The leading producers for the Spartans have been the three-man freshman class – Chris Allen (8.1 points), Kalin Lucas (7.0 points) and Durrell Summers (6.6 points) – that Rivals.com ranked No. 14 in the nation.
EDGE: Michigan State It's hard to pick against Tom Izzo in most coaching matchups. The guy has a national championship and four Final Fours on his résumé. His team, though, seemingly has played up - and down - to its level of competition. BYU's Dave Rose has been the Mountain West Coach of the Year for two years running, and his Cougars have played about as well as any team in the country through their first eight games. Besides the loss to North Carolina and the two-point win over Louisville, no team has been within 15 points of BYU. Its other six victories are by an average margin of 28.8 points.
WINNER: Michigan State It's tempting to go with BYU playing in Salt Lake. The Cougars will dump the ball inside to Plaisted, and if he's not powering it to the basket, he's setting someone up for a good look at a 3-pointer. BYU is an excellent shooting team from the perimeter, which makes Plaisted that much tougher to handle. But Michigan State has quality size and depth up front, and it defends well.

Michigan State 75, BYU 72

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.

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