MSU gets back into action on Friday night when it returns to the Breslin Center to face the Arkansas Pine Bluff Golden Lions. The Lions are coming off a competitive 14 point road loss to Oklahoma State, after having won their opener over Seattle University by a basket. MSU beat UAPB by 33 points in last year’s meeting and won by 32 points in 2012. The Lions were picked to finish 7th in the 10 team SWAC race this year. They return 3 starters from the team MSU faced a season ago, which finished 12-20 overall.

BACKCOURT – 6’3″ junior Ghiavonni Robinson will run point for UAPB. He was their second leading scorer against MSU last season and is 4th in the early going this year at 6ppg. The top offensive threat is 6’9″ wing JoVauhgn Love. Love had 11 and 8 against MSU last season, is the only returning double digit scorer for the Lions and is leading UAPB in scoring this year so far at 18 ppg and also is their top rebounder at 8 per contest.

Coach George Ivory will play several guards off his bench. 6’3″ junior Jaquan Lynch actually plays a good deal though he doesn’t start (21 mpg) and has been the best deep shooter on a team which hasn’t shot well overall. A pair of freshmen, 6’5″ Charles Jackson and 6′ Marcus Wallace should also see extended minutes, as will sophomore Austin Cox. Overall, UAPB has a good amount of size with its guards…they just don’t have a lot of experience or proven production outside the two starters.

FRONTCOURT – Ivory has chosen to start a larger lineup, though some of these guys appear to be starters in name only.6’8″ junior Deshon Bayless is a transfer who is playing a significant role early on for the Lions at a forward spot. Thaddeus Handley and Chauncey Parker are two seniors who have also started the first two games but are only playing around 10 mpg so far. Handley is a small forward type at 6’6″ while Parker is 6’8″ 225, so more of a true post.

6’7″ senior Trent Whiting isn’t starting but he’s been UAPB’s best interior player so far, averaging 11.5 ppg and 4.5 rpg in 24 mpg. He’ll be a big part of their team on Friday. 6’8″ junior Marquis Cunningham and 6’7″ junior Devin Berry will also see time off the UAPB bench.

THE 5 KEYS

1. Play the Game, not the opponent – Always something you watch for when a major game like KU is followed by a supposed walk-over like this one. One would hope motivation is high among MSU players because roles and rotations are still being determined, so any game presents an opportunity to cement your place going forward.

2. Guard the arc – UAPB has not been a good shooting team from three so far, nor were they very good last season, but they do take a LOT of shots from deep (just under half of their overall attempts so far in two games), so it’s fair to expect it to be a big part of what they try to do in this game and MSU will need to be aware of that and contest those shots with consistency.

3. Boards – I said at the season’s outset that I thought this MSU team had a chance to be better overall in rebounding despite losing a great individual boarder in BJ Dawson. Through an incredibly small sample to date, they’re looking as if they may make good on that potential. UAPB was terrible on the glass last season and they’re off to a bad start this year as well. You would hope MSU is able to control the glass in this game.

4. Post Touches – I really liked what MSU got out of Matt Costello against KU when he was on the floor. It’s unclear when MSU will get back Gavin Schililng but there are no indications it’ll be in time for this game, so it probably comes down to Matt and DD in the post again, with some help on the blocks from Jevon Bess as well. MSU isn’t going to make post play a massive part of its offensive game but it is significant and if it continues to improve it’ll make everything else they want to do easier. UAPB is far from a great team but they do have some size, so it presents an opportunity to work on this part of the offense and hopefully continue to get some good results.

5. Harris – Just want to see improvement from Eron. Tuesday was mostly a disaster for him…he showed some poor shot selection and really struggled to guard anybody. I remain optimistic that at some point, things are going to click for him and he’ll emerge as the player most (including his coach) expected him to be, and every game is an opportunity to start getting back on track. This one is no different in that regard.

OVERALL – UAPB hung around against a decent Oklahoma State team in its last game, so I don’t necessarily expect an automatic 30 plus point beatdown in this one. The Lions haven’t shown much reason to think they’ll do a ton of damage offensively but they appear to be a decent defensive team and they have enough length to potentially pose some problems for MSU’s offense.

I think they’re going to try to control the pace and not let this turn into a track meet, which is the usual MO for a mid major against a team like MSU, except that it also seems to be the way UAPB wants to play in general. MSU will need to be intent in pushing the tempo.

Even with a potential hangover from the KU win, I’d expect the Spartans to win this one with relative ease. UAPB would need to have “one of those nights” shooting the ball to really have a chance to hang around and that’s difficult to imagine unless MSU really contributes mightily to that cause with poor play of its own. For me, the bigger things are continuing to watch the rotations and playing groups develop and hoping for some signs that certain guys (Harris mostly) start to find themselves a bit.