East Region Final Analysis: Michigan State vs. ConnecticutPosted by Brian Otskey on March 30th, 2014
#4 Michigan State vs. #7 Connecticut – East Regional Final (at New York, NY) – 2:20 PM ET on CBS
Cinderella story Connecticut is on the precipice of its fifth Final Four in school history, but to get there the Huskies will have to get past a focused group of Spartans. Michigan State outlasted Virginia on Friday evening in what was a good old-fashioned slugfest. Should the Spartans get past the Huskies on Sunday afternoon in New York, Tom Izzo’s streak of sending every four-year player he has coached at Michigan State to a Final Four will continue.
While Connecticut has rebounded the basketball very well in this tournament, it has to be a concern for Kevin Ollie ahead of this game. The statistics show Michigan State is a much better rebounding team and that will result in crucial bonus possessions for the Spartans if it proves to be the case. As always, Izzo’s teams pride themselves on toughness, defense and rebounding. On the boards, the athletic Spartans have a significant edge. The Huskies will need DeAndre Daniels to have a similar game to the one he had against Iowa State on Friday, although going up against Adreian Payne and company will be much more difficult than an undersized and shorthanded Iowa State group. Offensively, Connecticut must shoot the ball well from the perimeter and get good dribble penetration from Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier. A combination of those two things is the only way the Huskies can open up the floor and break down Michigan State’s defense. Napier, who has been turnover-prone over his career, must take good care of the basketball as to not fuel the lethal Spartans transition game.
Michigan State was incredibly tough in the paint against Virginia on Friday with Branden Dawson and Payne showing off their strength and athleticism on the low block. Connecticut has a very good interior defense but this will be the Huskies’ strongest post challenge of the year. Payne in particular is such a difficult match-up because of his ability to stretch the defense with his jump shooting ability or post up and finish. A relentless worker, Payne has the look of a player throwing his team onto his back and carrying them to the Final Four and beyond. With Keith Appling still bothered by an injury (Izzo admitted after the game that he isn’t the same player), the onus is on the fellow senior Payne to carry his team to Arlington and a match-up with Florida in the national semifinals. Michigan State’s match-up with Connecticut is favorable in many respects, whether it be Payne in the middle or Denzel Valentine on the wing. Valentine does a great job facilitating the Spartan offense and should play a key role in this game. Defensively, he will have to mark Niels Giffey and prevent the great German three point shooter from having a big game.
Despite all of the focus on interior play and rebounding, this game could be decided at the three point line. Both teams aren’t shy to let it fly from deep and both rank in the top 20 nationally in three point percentage. However, neither team is particularly great at defending the three ball. If Napier or Gary Harris gets into one of those patented hot streaks, anything can happen. Speaking of Napier and Harris, what a fantastic match-up that will be. Connecticut is a scrappy, talented team that will give it everything it has in the tank in this game. However, we think Michigan State just has too much talent across the board and has been playing so well since the Big Ten Tournament. The Spartans are the favorite in this one and have a great chance to become the second Big Ten team headed to Cowboys Stadium.
The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan State.