Who: No. 1 Michigan State Spartans (3-0) vs. Portland Pilots (1-1)
What: Coaches vs. Cancer Classic
When: Nov. 18 (7 p.m.) (BTN)
Where: East Lansing, Mich. (Breslin Center)
Fun Fact: One previous meeting
The Michigan State Spartans and the Portland Pilots have only played each other one time prior to this Monday’s matchup.
The first meeting took place on Dec. 29, 1961, and the Spartans defeated the Pilots 74-60.
Matchup to Watch For: Gary Harris (MSU) vs. Kevin Bailey (U of P)
Despite a poor shooting performance — 4-of-11 for 11 points — in the Spartans’ latest victory over Columbia, MSU basketball shooting guard Gary Harris has been the go-to guy for the Spartans thus far this season.
Harris is averaging 17 points per game — tied with senior Adreian Payne for the team lead — while shooting 45 percent from the field. The sophomore from Fishers, Ind., scored 15 of his 20 points in the first half of Michigan State’s victory over Kentucky on Nov. 12, and with his diverse game — if carried throughout the season — he should be an NBA-lottery pick.
While Harris has done his thing on the biggest of stages, Portland has a stud shooting guard themselves in Kevin Bailey.
The 6-foot-5, 205-pound guard is averaging 20. 5 points per game while shooting 52 percent from the field.
This duel at the shooting guard position will be interesting because Portland has no shot at winning if Bailey isn’t playing well, and Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo believes that Harris is one of the best defenders at the guard position in the country, so it will be intriguing to see how Bailey performs.
X-Factor: Matt Costello
With the loss of big man Derrick Nix to graduation, the Michigan State Spartans are looking for one, or more, of their young big men to step up and take command of the starting position.
Sophomore Matt Costello seems to be the frontrunner, but he’s looked out of place at times this season. Izzo loves the athleticism of true-freshman Gavin Schilling, but he doesn’t look ready right now for major minutes. Redshirt junior Alex Gauna is another big man that is in the equation, but he has failed to take full advantage of his opportunities since becoming a Spartan.
The job is Costello’s to lose, and if he can rebound consistently and play solid defense, then the Spartans are in even better shape to make a national championship run.
Prediction: MSU 80, Portland 54
Izzo is going to have his team ready to go after their disappointing play in their 62-53 victory over Columbia. They emphasized not playing down to the level of their competition in the offseason, and I have a gut feeling that there won’t be a moment after the first five minutes where this game is close.