How Can Michigan State Keep Things Rolling Against Oklahoma?

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 27th, 2015


Michigan State has made yet another Sweet Sixteen appearance under Tom Izzo and it did so by surprising a very good Virginia team in the Third Round. The Spartans are now 6-2 since March 1, with both losses coming at the hands of Wisconsin. With the two highest seeds now removed from the East Region, it’s looking like another Final Four run for Coach Tom Izzo is a realistic possibility. But first things first. Tonight the Spartans will have to get through an Oklahoma team with the sixth-best defensive efficiency in college baskeball. Here are several ways for Sparty to get the job done and advance to the Elite Eight.

Branden Dawson needs to continue to be a factor for Michigan State to advance Friday night.  (Al Goldis/AP)

Branden Dawson needs to remain a factor for Michigan State to advance. (Al Goldis/AP)

  • Bryn Forbes > Frank Booker: Both teams have a sniper coming off the bench who can swing things simply by knocking down outside shots. Forbes has been more consistent, as he led the Big Ten in eFG (60.0%) and shot 43.0 percent from behind the three-point line on the season. Booker has only shot 31.3 percent from behind the arc, but he’s been hot since mid-February in making six of 12 attempts in Oklahoma’s two NCAA Tournament wins. Forbes needs to enter the game and be more of a factor than Booker here. If he can make shots and give Michigan State another scoring option outside of Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice on the perimeter, the Spartans have the tools to offset Oklahoma’s stellar defense.
  • Keep Spangler off the Glass: Ryan Spangler would be a perfect fit as a Spartan. He’s physical and he crashes the boards with a zeal that many players under Tom Izzo have exhibited. Unfortunately, he plays for Oklahoma. This means that Gavin Schilling and Matt Costello need to do their best in preventing the junior banger from notching his 15th double-figure rebounding game tonight. Spangler and TaShawn Thomas cannot be the tougher duo here, and the two Michigan State post players have the ability to make Oklahoma pay for surrounding their inside pair with three guards.

  • Make Them Shoot Threes: Because of the three-guard lineup that it often uses, Oklahoma likes to get out and run. While playing at the 56th-fastest tempo in the land doesn’t make anyone think of Loyola Marymount from the late ’80s, it is a significantly faster pace than Michigan State’s 223rd-ranked tempo. Buddy Hield and fellow guards Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard are legitimately lethal on the break. Hield shoots 7.3 threes per game, however, and does so at a 36.1 percent clip. While that’s not terrible, it’s beats having him flying around the floor for easy layups. The Spartans have to be careful if they crash the offensive boards too aggressively because the Sooners want to get out on the break at every opportunity. Making this a half-court game will benefit Michigan State.
  • Don’t Let Free Throws Cause Another Loss: Free throw woes have been arguably the biggest bugaboo for the Spartans all season long. While they aren’t going to magically knock down 90 percent of their attempts at the line anytime this weekend, they will have to offset Oklahoma’s better percentage there (73.8%, 37th nationally) by attempting at least 10 more shots in this game. This serves the purpose of getting a shallow Sooners’ roster in foul trouble and can negate their poor percentage with greater volume. To his credit, Trice has been much better lately (24-of-30 in his last six games), but he and Valentine (82.5%) can’t just settle for jumpers like they’ve done at different points in the season.
  • Continued Production from Dawson: Tournament Branden Dawson is almost on another level than Regular Season Branden Dawson. For the second season in a row — outside of the first half of the Georgia game — he’s played like a monster in March, putting up 15.2 PPG, 7.6 RPG, and 2.0 BPG this time around. It goes without saying that a disappearing act from the senior could very well end Michigan State’s season. Dawson needs to continue to play like a stud tonight.
Brendan Brody (307 Posts)

Brendan Brody is in his fourth season covering the Big Ten for RTC. Email him at, or follow him on twitter @berndon4.

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