Michigan State will begin its third week as the top-ranked team in the nation when it hosts No. 25 North Carolina on Wednesday as part of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.
The Tar Heels already have one victory over a top five opponent this season, knocking off then-No. 2 Louisville on Nov. 24 to end the Cardinals' school-record 21-game winning streak. North Carolina, though, suffered its second major upset this season when it lost at Alabama-Birmingham on Sunday to drop nine spots in the Top 25.
The Spartans played without leading scorer Gary Harris in their blowout victory Friday against Mount St. Mary’s as he rested a sore ankle, but the 6-4 guard is expected to play against North Carolina. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo also sent a message by keeping Keith Appling, Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson out of the starting lineup because they showed up late to a class. Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine took advantage of the extra playing time and scored 15 points apiece, but will likely be back in their reserve roles against the Tar Heels.
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ABOUT NORTH CAROLINA (4-2): Marcus Paige’s performance this season has mirrored the inconsistency of the Tar Heels. The 6-1 guard scored 32 points against Louisville, the second straight day he produced a career high, but was held to 13 against UAB. Still, he’s averaging a team-high 20.8 points after putting up 8.2 as a freshman last season.
ABOUT MICHIGAN STATE (7-0): The Spartans entered the week leading the nation in assists at 22 per game and have assisted on 67.8 percent of their field goals this season. Appling has been a key figure in that area, averaging 5.6 assists with a sterling 3.3 assist-to-turnover ratio. Appling is also one of four Michigan State players averaging more than one 3-pointer per game.
1. If Paige can maintain his scoring pace, he’d become the ninth North Carolina player to average at least 20 points in a season, joining Phil Ford, Michael Jordan, Brad Daugherty, Hubert Davis, Antawn Jamison, Joseph Forte, Rashad McCants and Tyler Hansbrough.
2. Paige has made 17-of-38 from 3-point range this season while his teammates have combined to shoot 3-for-22.
3. The Spartans have made 10 or more from 3-point range in three games this fall after accomplishing that feat once last season.