South Bend, IN (SportsNetwork.com) - The 19th-ranked Michigan State Spartans have come calling on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Michigan State is 5-2 on the young season, and the team is hoping for a return to the win column after dropping a 61-56 decision to Kansas on Sunday to close out the Orlando Classic. The Spartans had won their previous four outings, with their only other setback coming in an 81-71 final versus Duke on Nov. 18.
Notre Dame has won six of its first seven games, including the last two against inferior foes Grambling State (81-54) and Chicago State (90-42). The Fighting Irish are 5-0 at home this season, but they haven't really been tested, save for a 75-74 loss to Providence on a neutral court four days before Thanksgiving.
Notre Dame owns a 59-35 lead in the all-time series with Michigan State, but this is the first meeting between the two since an 80-68 triumph for the Spartans in the 1979 NCAA Championship Mideast Regional title game. MSU has won eight of the last 11 matchups overall.
Despite losing to a pair of teams currently residing in the Top-25, Michigan State has performed well at both ends of the court this season. The team is producing 73.3 ppg in hitting 48.6 percent of its total shots, which includes a 42.1 percent showing from 3-point range. Defensively, the club in allowing a mere 59.7 ppg, with foes connecting on only 37.4 percent of their field goal attempts, including 29.8 percent from beyond the arc. Travis Trice (16.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 5.9 apg), Denzel Valentine (14.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.7 apg) and Branden Dawson (10.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg) are all averaging double figures in the scoring column, while serving valuable roles in other areas as well.
Trice and Valentine both hit for 14 points in the recent loss to Kansas, but the team as a whole managed just a 32.2 percent shooting effort. Trice and Dawson went a combined 7-of-29 from the floor, but the Spartans did play well defensively in limiting the Jayhawks to 37.0 percent field goal efficiency, as they missed the mark on 11 of their 14 3-point tries. MSU lost the battle on the boards (44-36), and was outscored at the foul line (18-12).
Notre Dame has been an offensive force in the early stages of the 2014-15 campaign, as it is putting up 86.3 ppg in knocking down 58 percent of its field goal attempts, which includes a 43 percent showing from 3-point land. Add in a defensive stand that holds the opposition to 56.9 ppg on typical shooting outputs of only .375 overall and .271 from beyond the arc, and it's little wonder Mike Brey's club is off to such a fast start. Jerian Grant is averaging 18.4 ppg as one of four double-digit scorers for the Irish, but he is much more than a scorer as he already has 50 assists (7.1 per game). Zac Auguste (15.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Pat Connaughton (13.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg) have performed well at both ends of the court.
Grant used a 6-of-8 showing from 3-point range to compile 26 points, while Connaughton hit three treys to tack on 17 more, as Notre Dame had very little trouble dispatching visiting Chicago State last Saturday. In all, four players reached double figures for the Irish, who shot 58.5 percent from the floor, draining 14 3-pointers along the way. As for Chicago State, it made good on only 30.9 percent of its total shots, which included a dismal 5-of-23 performance from long range. The visitors also attempted only four free throws, while getting battered on the boards, 39-26.