A Closer Look: Michigan State vs LouisvillePosted by Ryan Terpstra on March 21st, 2012
For some pundits on the national scene, Michigan State is thought of as the team “after Kentucky” most likely to win a national championship. The Big Ten co-champs and Big Ten Player of the Year Draymond Green have a tough task ahead of them with #4 seed Louisville. It’s a rematch of the 2009 Elite Eight when Michigan State upset Louisville 64-52. What will happen this time around? Let’s take a look:
1. How will Louisville approach this game? Last time these two teams met in 2009, Louisville came out with Rick Pitino‘s bread an butter–the full-court press. However, the Spartans were able to break the press and get some easy baskets, so the Cardinals backed off. Will Louisville decide to attack the Spartan guards again this time around? My guess would be yes. While Keith Appling is a solid ball-handler, he can be turnover-prone at times, as evidenced by his seven-turnover performance against Ohio State on February 11 and his five-turnover game in a loss to Illinois on January 31. The other guards charged with handling the pressure will be senior Austin Thornton (a shooter not known for his handle), Brandon Wood, and true freshman Travis Trice. Don’t be surprised if Draymond Green takes an active role in bringing the ball up the court in an effort to negate the speed and trapping abilities of the Cardinal guards. Louisville relies heavily on guys like Russ Smith (84 steals on the year) and Peyton Siva (63 steals) to create opportunities, and they will need their guards to be better than the Spartan guards if they hope to score the upset.
2. Will Keith Appling once again be dared to shoot? In a surprising turn of events against Saint Louis, Keith Appling turned into Rajon Rondo. Meaning, the Biliken defense routinely sagged off Appling at the three-point line, daring the Spartan point guard to shoot the ball. It was perplexing to those who have followed Appling’s career because Keith has always been known as a scorer and a guy who certainly has three-point range. In fact, he started the year shooting 52% in the first six games of the year even going 3-5 in a win over Florida State. But the scouting report in this season cannot be denied: Appling hasn’t hit more than one three in a game since December 28. He admitted after the Saint Louis game that he felt disrespected by the defense, yet he was able to knock down a big outside shot late in the second half. Will Louisville employ the same strategy? And if they do, will Appling be willing to pull the trigger to try and make them pay?
3. Draymond Green is going to need some help. Green is a load down low, and is only 13 rebounds away from breaking Greg Kelser’s career all-time rebounding record at Michigan State. He will also be expected to score plenty in the low block against Louisville, given that 6’6″ Chane Behanan is likely to be on him for much of the game. But Louisville has a great weak-side defender in Gorgui Dieng (116 blocks on the year), and Green will need help from fellow big men Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne to keep Dieng occupied. Dieng averages 9.1 RPG, and Behanan is second on the team with 7.4 RPG. However, Dieng is susceptible to foul trouble, so expect the athletic Payne and the bruising Nix to take their shots at the Cardinal big man in an attempt to get his long frame a seat on the bench.
4. Can Tom Izzo’s preparation put Michigan State over the top? Izzo is a tournament master when it comes to short turn-around preparation for an opponent. Michigan State has a lot longer than 48 hours to get ready for Louisville, and will that turn out to be an extra edge for the Spartans? Rick Pitino is a legendary coach, but there is no question that Izzo is currently a better tournament coach, and his teams have had more success. Izzo knows what Louisville is going to try to do, but does Pitino know what to prepare for when it comes to Michigan State? In 2009, the Cardinals had to change their strategy mid-way through the game because the press wasn’t working. Another in-game adjustment could mean another Michigan State victory in 2012.