Louisville and Michigan State spent the Thanksgiving holiday in the Bahamas. They'll meet up on Wednesday in much chillier East Lansing, Michigan, as part of the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
The Spartans (5-2) entered the rankings this week at No. 22 after a strong showing in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. They pulled out narrow victories against Loyola Chicago and Connecticut before falling in the title game to No. 6 Baylor, 75-58.
The Cardinals defeated Mississippi State on Thursday, then topped another Big Ten team, Maryland, 63-55, in the Bahamas Championship.
"They're a very balanced team," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. "Very good defensively. Shooting a ton of threes, open the court up (but) not a lot in the post. Yet it should be a very, very, very good game. I'm hoping this is one of those big games where the home crowd makes a difference, even though it's a Wednesday night."
Louisville (5-1) has only one player averaging double figures -- Noah Locke (13.0). Malik Williams (8.0 points) leads the team in rebounding (9.8).
Head coach Chris Mack returned on Monday after serving a six-game suspension. He was suspended without pay after an attempted extortion involving his former assistant, Dino Gaudio.
The Cardinals have been able to overcome subpar 3-point shooting (29.8 percent) and free throw shooting (67.9 percent) with solid defense. None of their opponents have scored more than 67 points in regulation with assistant Mike Pegues running the team.
"We weren't perfect, nowhere near perfect. We lost that one game, but our response was everything," Williams said. "That response is going to be who we are the rest of the season. That's great to have Coach Mack back, but props to Coach Pegues. He stepped up and took that role in a big way."
Baylor outscored Michigan State 37-22 in the second half on Friday. The Spartans' main issue was turnovers -- they committed 19, which the Bears turned into 22 points. They shot 36.8 percent in the second half after making more than half their shot attempts in the first 20 minutes.
The Spartans are averaging 15.7 turnovers per game, three more than their opponents.
"Turnovers have continued to be a problem and we're working on it," Izzo said. "Some of it is trying to put our whole group together because the pieces, I think they're great. But getting that done and getting guys to kind of have a feel for one another. They (the turnovers) have still been of the ridiculous nature in my mind. A lot that I can attribute to great defense, but in some of the cases, poor offense."
The Spartans have also struggled from deep (32.0 percent on 3-point attempts) but have held opponents to 28.6 percent from beyond the arc.
Michigan State doesn't have a prolific scorer, though Gabe Brown is off to a strong start at 13.4 points per game. Marcus Bingham Jr. is the only other player averaging double figures (10.9). Heralded freshman Max Christie (33.3 percent from the field) and Joey Hauser (31.4 percent shooting) are off to sluggish starts.
Izzo believes last week's tournament was an excellent measuring stick.
"It is going to do nothing but help us," he said. "That tournament helped us, winning the games we won against who we beat makes me feel comfortable and confident, and we did that with two of our best shooters not doing much."
--Field Level Media