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Points of Emphasis: Louisville vs. Michigan State

Here are the more significant storylines to follow ahead of Louisville's men's basketball's matchup with Michigan State:

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Fresh off of winning an in-season championship down in the Bahamas, the Louisville's men's basketball program now heads to East Lansing, facing Michigan State as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Tip-off is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 1 at 7:15 p.m. EST.

Here are a few of the more significant storylines to follow ahead of the Cardinals' matchup against the Spartans:

Return of the Mack

C'mon, you had to see that pun coming.

Wednesday's game at Michigan State will mark the season debut for Louisville head coach Chris Mack. He had been previously serving a six-game suspension for his handling of the Dino Gaudio extortion attempt. Mack made his return to practice on Monday.

In Mack's absence, the Cardinals were led by assistant coach Mike Pegues. Louisville looked rocky during their four-game home-stand to start the season, but put together a much more impressive effort down in the Baha Mar Hoops Bahamas Championship. Pegues went 5-1 in his head coaching debut.

Battle Tested

While Louisville's month of November featured mostly low-to-mid tier competition, Michigan State was in a war almost every night.

Heading into their Wednesday night ACC/Big Ten Challenge showdown, Michigan State sports a strength of schedule that ranks No. 7 in the country, according to Warren Nolan. Only Oakland, Xavier, New Mexico State, Gardner-Webb, Alabama and VCU have faced stiffer collective competition.

They opened the season by getting hammered by Kansas 87-74, and were most recently drilled by Baylor 75-58 the Battle 4 Atlantis title game. But, they do have a few good wins on their resume already. Before getting beatdown by Baylor, they logged back-to-back wins over Loyolo Chicago and UConn - both of whom are ranked inside the KenPom top 30.

Add in a solid win over Butler, as well as gimmes against Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan, and the Spartans sit at 5-2 on the year. They are currently No. 22 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Lockdown Defense

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Like Louisville, Michigan State is a defensive-minded team, only they are executing at a higher degree.

Both their field goal percentage defense and their three-point percentage defense are ranked No. 30 in the nation, at 37.6 percent and 26.3 percent, respectively. Like Louisville's previous foe Maryland, the Spartans also get in a lot of blocks, averaging 5.2 per game for 38th in D1.

On the defensive end of the court, senior forward Marcus Bingham Jr. leads the charge. Not only is his nine total steals a team-best, but his 3.0 blocked shots per game is 18 in the nation. It also helps that he averages 10.9 points and a team-best 7.1 rebounds per game. He's one to watch for on both ends, but especially on defense.

If there's anything that Michigan State doesn't do well defensively, it's forcing steals and turnovers, as they average just 5.3 and 11.0 - both outside the top 300 nationally. But, their collective defensive acumen more than makes up for it, and are actually ranked as the No. 2 defense in the nation according to KenPom, behind only Houston.

Coughing it Up

Going up against Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo is never an easy task, and it certainly won't be here. On top of Bingham, forward Gabe Brown is a dangerous scoring threat with a team-best 13.4 points per game, forward Joey Hauser is dangerous on the boards with 6.8 per game, and guards A.J. Hoggard and Max Christie average a combined 8.3 assists per game.

But if Louisville finds a way to win, it will be because of their ability to force turnovers.

When it comes to turning over the ball, the Spartans are one of the worst teams in college basketball. They average 16.7 per game, which places 321st out of the 358 teams in Division I. Against both Kansas and Baylor, Michigan State turned it over a combined 35 times. They also have the 309th-ranked offensive block percentage, according to KenPom, at 12.6 percent.

Defensive effort and efficiency has been trending upwards in hurry for Louisville, as they forced collective 28 turnovers in the Bahamas, and held Maryland and Mississippi State to a combined 35.7 percent from the floor. While it will be a tough ask to take down the Spartans on the road, it isn't unheard of.

(Photo of Christen Cunningham, Cassius Winston: Jamie Rhodes - USA TODAY Sports)

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