Rushed Reactions: #1 Duke 81, #7 Michigan State 61

Posted by Naveen Reddy on April 4th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Talk about a bounce back performance - Jahlil Okafor was outstanding against the Spartans. (AP Photo/Chris Steppig, Pool)

Talk about a bounce back performance – Jahlil Okafor was outstanding against the Spartans. (AP Photo/Chris Steppig, Pool)

  1. Michigan State was simply overmatched. We don’t want to take away anything from the Spartans’ remarkable run. They went from a team that at times this season made us wonder if they would make the NCAA Tournament to one that made the Final Four. The truth is they were not anywhere near the level of the other three teams here. The fact that they got here is a testament to just how good of a coach Tom Izzo is and how tough this team was, but they just didn’t have the talent to compete. Their early hot start (going 5-of-7 from the field including 4-of-4 from three) made things interesting when they jumped out to a 14-6 lead, but then they regressed the mean and reality set in. They proceeded to hit just 3 of their next 20 shots and go 0-of-5 from three to end the half to fall behind 36-25. Denzel Valentine (19 points and 9 rebounds), Branden Dawson (12 points and 7 rebounds), and Travis Trice (16 points and 5 assists) all had solid performances, but it wasn’t enough. While an 11-point lead at halftime is far from insurmountable, when you are this overmatched it essentially is. Once Michigan State cooled off, you knew this one was over.
  2. Duke just took care of business. Nobody on Duke played out of their mind, but everybody chipped in from Jahlil Okafor (18 points and 6 rebounds) to Grayson Allen (9 points including an emphatic dunk in the second half that served as an exclamation mark even if it was early in the second half). It was a total team effort from Duke in a victory that was never in doubt. Coming into tonight we didn’t really see a way that Michigan State could win, but a lot of people have lost a lot of money over the years betting against Tom Izzo in such situations. Justice Winslow was simply dominant and while we is too good and consistent to be considered an X-factor when he is truly “on” he takes them to another level. While Duke is far from a one-man team, he will need to be at his best on Monday night if they are going to win especially against Kentucky.
  3. Monday night is going to be crazy. We normally save this for the last section of these posts, but honestly we can barely contain ourselves right now. We know that Duke-Kentucky is the game that every CBS executive wants (ok, it’s not just them), but Duke-Wisconsin wold be fascinating in its own right with Okafor facing Frank Kaminsky in what essentially will be a head-to-head workout that every NBA executive with a top-5 pick will be keeping track of. On the perimeter, you could potentially have Winslow and Sam Dekker (potentially two of the top perimeter picks in this year’s NBA Draft if they decided to leave) going against each other. If it ends up being Duke-Kentucky, you would have lottery picks all over the court (and for Kentucky some coming off the bench) in a game that might be the most highly anticipated game in college basketball history (we aren’t exaggerating).

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Final Four Previews: Duke/Michigan State Will Win If…

Posted by Bennet Hayes & Tommy Lemoine on April 4th, 2015

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The time has finally come for all the hand-wringing, all the expectations, all the anticipation, and all the office pools between Jim from accounting and Bonnie the receptionist to be decided. In what undoubtedly has evolved into one of the more intriguing Final Fours in recent memory, the story lines bleeding out of Indianapolis this week has been plentiful. Will Coach Cal and the ‘Cats finish off The Perfect Season? Will Wisconsin play spoiler? Will the traditional power in blue once again reign supreme? Will the boys from East Lansing show that a team can win a ‘ship without a boatload of McDonald All-Americans? We’ll all find out soon. In the meantime…

Duke Will Win If…

Tom Izzo’s team has done things this March that Tom Izzo’s teams seem to do every March. One Michigan State postseason streak, however, has yet to continue. In each of the last 14 seasons, Tom Izzo’s Spartans have lost an NCAA Tournament game.

Duke's Leading Trio Of Freshmen (Pictured With Matt Jones, #13) Are The Reason Duke Will Advance To Championship Monday. (The Charlotte Observer)

Duke’s Leading Trio Of Freshmen (Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor) Are The Reason Duke Will Advance To Championship Monday. (The Charlotte Observer)

Expect that streak to continue Saturday. In a battle of teams with elite coaches and similarly thin benches, Duke’s star power and defense will prove to be difference-makers. By most accounts, Jahlil Okafor has been the second-best player in America this season. He was neither the best nor the second-best player in Houston last weekend, but Okafor is poised for a rebound (or 15) against an undersized Michigan State squad, which has only two regulars taller than 6’6” (Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling). The consensus two best players in that South regional – fellow Blue Devil freshmen Justise Winslow and South Region MOP Tyus Jones – will also feature prominently this weekend. Winslow’s profile has risen as much as any player’s this NCAA Tournament, and with mostly good reason. The enigmatic forward has saved his best basketball of the season for March, averaging 14 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.8 blocks per game in the Tournament. Throw in Jones, the steady hand guiding the leash on this explosive Duke offense, and the case could easily be made that Duke will have the three best players on the floor in this game. Read the rest of this entry »

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Final Four Storylines: Michigan State Edition

Posted by Henry Bushnell on April 4th, 2015

The Final Four is set. This week we’ll continue our NCAA Tournament Storylines series focused on each of the remaining four teams. We’ve already covered the three top seeds, Kentucky, Wisconsin and Duke. Finally, here’s Michigan State.

Tom Izzo (USA Today Images)

Is Tom Izzo’s Group a Team of Destiny? (USA Today Images)

What a turnaround. There are so many specific December and January days to which to point. Think back to December 20 and the stunning loss to Texas Southern. Recall January 24 and the defeat at Nebraska that resulted in a 13-7 (4-3 Big Ten) record. Consider February 7 and the ugly loss at home to Illinois. All of those days tell the same story: Michigan State just wasn’t very good. It’s that simple. The Spartans didn’t look at all like a Tom Izzo-coached team. They lacked talent, cohesiveness and an identity. But more than anything else, cohesiveness and an identity is exactly what they’ve found, and it’s what has enabled this run. Michigan State isn’t stocked with NBA prospects or McDonald’s All-Americans, but every contributing player has learned over the course of the season to excel in his role, and that’s why Sparty is here.

Izzo in March. Frankly, it has ascended to the level of an indisputable phenomenon. Tom Izzo just wins in March — there’s no two ways about it. And not only is the idea firmly entrenched in the minds of fans, and not only does it appear on any show or in any article that discusses Michigan State, it is also backed up by numbers. Izzo’s teams consistently outperform their seed in the NCAA Tournament, more so than any other program in the modern era. What makes the success even more impressive is that Izzo has done it as both a favorite and an underdog. Michigan State reached the Final Four three straight years as a 1-seed from 1999-2001, and then twice got there as a 5-seed in 2005 and 2010. This year, Izzo is back as a 7-seed. Now, technically it’s not March anymore. But in the college basketball world, it’s still March through Monday. And it’s still Izzo in March. And it’s going to take an exceedingly good performance to disrupt the Spartans’ record of postseason success.’

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Michigan State Spartans

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on April 2nd, 2015

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Midway through a week before the most highly-anticipated Final Four in years, let’s do a reset on each of the four teams still standing. Today’s victims: Michigan State and Wisconsin (later this afternoon).

How Sparty Got Here

East Region Champions. Michigan State beat #10 seed Georgia in its NCAA Tournament opener before using superb defense and key coaching adjustments to stun #2 seed Virginia in the Round of 32. From there, it was off to Syracuse where the Spartans edged #3 seed Oklahoma in the Sweet Sixteen and overcame an eight-point halftime deficit by beating Louisville in overtime to punch a surprising but well-earned ticket to Indianapolis.

For the second-straight season, a #7-seed won the East Region. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

For the second straight season, a #7 seed won the East Region. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The Coach

Tom Izzo. Izzo’s remarkable run of March success has been well-documented. He’s now tied with Rick Pitino and Roy Williams for fourth all-time with seven Final Four appearances – three of which came as a #5 seed or worse. His .742 NCAA Tournament winning percentage and 46 total victories rank fifth among active coaches. By defeating Louisville last Sunday, Izzo notched his 13th win over a higher seed in the Big Dance – the most such victories all-time – while improving to 20-4 in the second game of an NCAA Tournament weekend, also one of the finest marks ever. Simply put, Michigan State’s 20th-year leader is masterful in the third month of the year.

Style

At 17.8 seconds per possession, Michigan State is among the more uptempo offensive teams in the country and ranks second behind only Kentucky among Final Four units. The Spartans are more than willing to get out in transition, finish near the rim or locate open shooters – like transfer Bryn Forbes (43.5% 3FG) – on the wing. In the half-court, Izzo’s club moves the ball very well (seventh-highest assist rate in college basketball), takes a healthy number of perimeter jumpers and likes to run ball-screen and pick-and-roll action as the shot clock wanes. Defensively, Michigan State applies some man-to-man ball pressure and tries to limit both easy looks in the paint and second-chance opportunities (72.9% DReb). Only three teams in college basketball forced its opponents into longer offensive possessions this season (20.1 seconds per trip).

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.01.15 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 1st, 2015

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March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Michigan State

Tom Izzo Is Loving This Team (USA Today Images)

Tom Izzo Is Loving This Team (USA Today Images)

  • Of all people, Duke’s Coach K is perhaps least surprised to be facing Michigan State coach Tom Izzo in the Final Four. “Nothing surprises me that he and his program would do,” Krzyzewski said. “They don’t have a team; they have a program. As he develops each team, I don’t know what the time frame of it is until that group understands what the program is about, whether it be offense, defense or just character-wise, but they’re going to keep improving because it’s a program. It’s a program of excellence.”
  • For Michigan State, the emergence of freshman LouRawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn Jr. has been paramount to the Spartans’ turnaround this season. He hasn’t scored much so far in the NCAA Tournament, but that’s not what makes him so valuable. “He does so much for our team that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet,” said senior guard Travis Trice. “He helps break the press, he gets other guys involved. Tum’s also that energy guy. There are times [before or after practice] where guys are kind of tired and Tum’s there with all the energy and boosts everybody up. Tum does a lot of things for us that people really don’t see.”
  • Michigan State may not have as much individual talent as it usually does, but this bunch has played very well as a team. “This is some of the things that has separated this year’s team: from top to bottom there is a – I don’t know if you can use the word, but there is a true love for one another,” Izzo said, “and that is a powerful, powerful thing, so I’m appreciative of those upperclassmen.”
  • Check out Tom Izzo‘s postgame speech to his team after the Spartans punched their ticket on Sunday to the Final Four.
  • With a BCS Bowl victory and another Final Four appearance, it’s a good time to be a Michigan State fan.

Duke

  • No matter the year, the moment, or the personnel on his team, Coach K is consistently great. “There’s not just one way,” [assistant coach Nate] James said. “Some coaches are stuck in their ways, like ‘I want to do it this way, the way I’ve always done it.’ No. If you do it that way, it may hurt this group. He adjusts.”
  • Even though Duke is a mainstay at the top of college basketball, Krzyzewski insists that this team has worked its way to a “magical season,” just like everyone else. “It’s not a birthright; it’s earned each year,” he said.
  • From losing Rasheed Sulaimon to hitting some midseason lulls back in January, this Duke team has learned to be resilient.
  • Is Coach K the greatest college basketball head coach of all time? Chris Chase seems to think so.
  • Duke may be in the Final Four, but Jahlil Okafor hasn’t exactly dominated in March. Is the freshman standout somewhat overrated?

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Michigan State 76, #4 Louisville 70 (OT)

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 29th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Michigan State is headed to Indianapolis. (Dennis Nett / Syracuse.com)

Michigan State is headed to Indianapolis. (Dennis Nett / Syracuse.com)

  1. Overtime giveth, overtime taketh away. Michigan State went 2-5 in overtime games prior to today, including a six-point home loss to Richard Pitino-coached Minnesota in February and an 11-point defeat against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. Louisville had only played one overtime contest before this afternoon – a 10-point victory over North Carolina. Yet, despite that recent history – with the stakes higher than ever – the basketball gods looked favorably upon the Spartans during the extra period. Bryn Forbes (14 points) knocked down a three-pointer to tip things off. The Cardinals, on the other hand, missed two early shots, including a layup. Branden Dawson found himself in perfect position for a late, game-clinching offensive rebound and putback that essentially sealed the win. “Sometimes it can be a cruel game,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said afterward, referring to the fickle nature of bonus basketball. In another tight game with razor-thin margin for error, good fortune finally went the way of Michigan State.
  2. Michigan State clamped down in second half. Louisville shredded Michigan State’s interior defense in the first half, shooting 13-of-27 from two-point land and scoring 31 of its 40 points from inside the arc or at the free throw line. Cardinal forward Montrezl Harrell – who scored 24 points against North Carolina State on Friday – scored 12 in the game’s opening 11 minutes, helping his team grab an eight-point lead at the break. Then the Spartans clamped down. Over the final 25 minutes of regulation and overtime, Louisville shot just 6-of-32 from the field and mustered only an additional 30 points. Michigan State shut down the lane – limiting the Cardinals’ dribble penetration and collapsing on Harrell (who only scored four points the rest of the way) – and did a better job extending on shooters. That defensive stinginess enabled Izzo’s club to climb back in the game and ultimately wind up on top.
  3. Another Elite Eight thriller. As if last night’s Notre Dame-Kentucky game wasn’t enough, the Elite Eight delivered yet another thrilling finish in Syracuse today. The back-and-forth second half was filled with momentum swings and fraught with drama, including Mangok Mathiang’s game-tying free throw at the end of regulation that seemingly hung in the air for minutes before falling through the net. All told, the lead changed 11 different times and was tied on nine different occasions before Michigan State grabbed the final edge in overtime. If regional weekend is a sign of things to come, then next week’s Final Four should be nothing short of excellent.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Elite Eight Sunday

Posted by Bennet Hayes & Tommy Lemoine on March 29th, 2015

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The Elite Eight is here. Two more games that have a chance to become classics. Let’s break them down.

#4 Louisville vs. #7 Michigan State – East Region Elite Right (at Syracuse, NY) – at 2:20 PM ET on CBS

Denzel Valentine and the Spartans hope to wind up in Indy next weekend. (Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports)

Denzel Valentine and the Spartans hope to wind up in Indy next weekend. (Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports)

Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo are no strangers to this stage, or each other. The Hall of Fame Louisville coach ranks fourth all-time with seven Final Four appearances, including two since 2012. The 20th-year Michigan State head man trails just behind with six, along with four Elite Eight trips since 2009. And for the third time in seven years, their teams will meet in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. This is familiar territory. What’s not familiar, though, is the route each team took to reach this point. Unlike in 2009 and 2012 – when both teams were either #1 or #2-seeds – the Cardinals and Spartans enter this afternoon’s contest having endured rocky seasons with somewhat limited expectations. Izzo’s club lost 11 games this year, including a baffling home loss to Texas Southern in mid-December. Pitino’s unit dismissed point guard and top three-point shooter Chris Jones in late February, further exacerbating its offensive woes. Yet here they both are, playing for the right to move on to Indianapolis.

So what should we expect from these resilient teams? For Louisville, this much we know: its defense – ranked fifth nationally in adjusted efficiency – will be stout. As per usual for Pitino-coached squads, it will apply heavy ball pressure and limit good looks from behind the arc (30% 3PT defense). What’s been surprising about its three-game run, however, is the offensive production. Against Northern Iowa and North Carolina State, the Cardinals scored 1.2 and 1.17 points per possession, respectively, and received high-efficiency, high-production performances from both Terry Rozier (25 points; 146 ORtg against the Panthers) and Montrezl Harrell (24 points; 150 ORtg against the Wolfpack). The newfound offensive consistency – especially in the half-court – has turned them into a substantially more well-rounded unit, one that looks much closer to the team that began the year 11-0.

The specific areas of Michigan State’s recent improvement are slightly harder to pin-point but no less impactful. Power forward Branden Dawson has been playing his best basketball of the season – on both ends of the court – since the start of the Big Ten tournament onward. The Spartans have done a better job taking care of the ball, suffering just five miscues against Oklahoma on Friday night. And Travis Trice (20.6 PPG in NCAA Tournament) has emerged as the teams’ consistent, go-to scorer – something it lacked earlier in the year. All of the little things seem to be coming together for Izzo’s group at the right time.

This afternoon’s matchup might ultimately come down to a few key factors: Louisville’s ability to score around the rim against Michigan State’s interior defense (43.6% 2PT), and whether the Spartans can keep their offensive cool against the Cardinals’ various matchup zone and man-to-man defensive looks. Oddly, North Carolina State kept itself alive on Friday by knocking down shots from behind the arc (9-for-20 3FG) against Louisville, but struggled to score in the paint. Izzo’s club will need a little bit of both today, and certainly needs to take care of the ball. Likewise, Dawson, Matt Costello, and the rest of Michigan State’s big men cannot allow Harrell and Louisville’s penetrating guards nearly as many good looks near the basket as they found on Friday. In the end, I like Michigan State’s ability to crash the offensive glass (33.9% OReb) against the Cardinals’ sub-par defensive rebounding (30.9% DReb) to be the difference – not to mention the fact that doubting Izzo on the back-end of an NCAA Tournament weekend seems foolish. Expect a thrilling, hotly-contested and well-coached contest either way.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan State

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Texas and Rick Barnes Finally Part Ways

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 28th, 2015

Rick Barnes‘ last four seasons with Texas were a rollercoaster ride. After failing to win an NCAA Tournament game in consecutive seasons for the first time in his 17-year tenure, Barnes reformed the team in 2013 without once-promising recruits Sheldon McClellan, Myck Kabongo, Julien Lewis, Jaylen Bond and Ioannis Papapetrou. His remaining players took him off the hot seat, riding stifling interior defense to a surprise third-place finish in the Big 12 and a thrilling NCAA Tournament win over Arizona State before bowing out to Michigan in the Round of 32. You probably know what happened next, but to bring you up to speed, the Longhorns came into this season as the leading candidate to knock Kansas from its conference perch, but injuries, inconsistent offense and lax perimeter defense kept the team from meeting expectations.

Rick Barnes brought unprecedented levels of success to Texas, but rocky seasons and early NCAA Tournament flameouts finally caught up to him. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Rick Barnes brought unprecedented levels of success to Texas, but rocky seasons and early NCAA Tournament flameouts finally caught up to him. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Texas finished with a losing record in the Big 12 for the second time in three years, and while they had a chance to redeem themselves in the NCAA Tournament last week, they petered out in an uninspiring loss to Butler. On Thursday night reports emerged that athletic director Steve Patterson gave Barnes an ultimatum: Replace your staff or I’ll replace you. Barnes wouldn’t acquiesce to those demands, and now the two parties going their separate ways.

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Elite Eight Storylines

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 28th, 2015

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As we move into a loaded Elite Eight this weekend, here are five storylines to keep an eye on over the next 36 hours of action. Enjoy!

Elite Eight Storylines

Duke, Along With Kentucky, Arizona, Louisville, Michigan State, Gonzaga... It's a Loaded Elite Eight (USA Today Images)

Duke, Along With Kentucky, Arizona, Louisville, Michigan State, Gonzaga… It’s a Loaded Elite Eight (USA Today Images)

Bluebloods. Last year, when Dayton went to the Elite Eight as a #11 seed, it was a nice story. But the Flyers’ regional final game against Florida was no contest. It wasn’t as if Dayton had no shot to win, but it was clear from the opening tip that the Flyers were overmatched. It’s fun to romanticize about underdogs making a long run in the NCAA Tournament, but the reality is that they usually run face first into a reality check (and thus a fairly dull game). For some, it happens later than others — see 2011 Butler, which lost in the national championship game to Connecticut — but it eventually happens. This year there’s no Dayton. There’s not even a Butler or a VCU. We’ve done away with the little guys. The likelihood of one team getting completely overwhelmed from a pure talent perspective is unlikely. There is still a #7 seed on the board, but Michigan State is anything but a plucky upstart. There is also a double-digit point spread in one of tonight’s games, but that says more about Kentucky than the ACC champs. So while it would have been cool to see Xavier knock off Arizona, we have what we want in the end: a bunch of bluebloods and some outstanding matchups.

Coaching Superstars. It’s often said that great coaching triumphs in March, so think about the eight coaches who are still remaining: the least successful of the eight is probably Mike Brey – yes, the same Mike Brey who’s been to 12 NCAA Tournaments and just won an ACC Tournament title in his second year in the league. Statistics aside, everybody knows that Brey is just a darn good coach. He finds himself in quite the elite company this weekend. The aggregate tenure of all eight coaches at their respective schools is 126 years, and between them, they have exactly 4,400 Division I wins. The coaching matchups on the right side of the bracket are especially compelling. Tom Izzo and Rick Pitino are statistically the two best NCAA Tournament coaches of the modern era, and Mark Few and Mike Krzyzewski have combined for 49 conference regular season or tournament titles. Wow.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Michigan State 62, #3 Oklahoma 58

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 28th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

The Spartans came up big down the stretch against Oklahoma. (Elsa / Getty Images North America)

The Spartans came up big down the stretch against Oklahoma. (Elsa / Getty Images North America)

  1. Michigan State did the little things down stretch – which isn’t always the case. Michigan State entered tonight’s contest ranked 339th nationally in free throw percentage (63%). Against Minnesota on February 26, the Spartans missed several key shots from the stripe, committed a number of silly fouls and blew a five-point lead with less than 20 seconds remaining. They nearly did the same thing at Indiana two weeks later. Late-game execution hasn’t exactly been their forte. But tonight was different. Branden Dawson and Matt Costello ripped down several huge offensive rebounds when Tom Izzo’s club needed them most. No one committed bone-headed fouls or careless turnovers. And despite going just 9-of-16 from the stripe as a team, Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine hit six free throws in a row in the game’s final two minutes to seal Michigan State’s four-point victory.
  2. Travis Trice carried the load (again); Denzel Valentine stepped up. After scoring 15 points against #10 Georgia and 23 points against #2 Virginia – including a late, dagger triple – senior guard Travis Trice once again carried the offensive load for Michigan State, pouring in 24 points on 50 percent shooting and knocking down several huge free throws down the stretch. Meanwhile, forward Denzel Valentine – who mustered just four points against the Cavaliers – finally woke up in the second half, scoring 13 of his 18 points in the final 20 minutes and keeping the Spartans on top late.
  3. Oklahoma went cold. Izzo said of Oklahoma, “They gave it to us in every way it could be gotten” early on. And he’s right. For the first eight-plus minutes of the game, the Sooners blasted Michigan State on both ends of the court, using a flurry of layups and dunks to jump out by a score of 18-8 before the Spartans even knew what hit them. Then, the offensive melee came to a halt. Dawson, Costello and the rest of Izzo’s frontcourt shored up the interior, and Oklahoma shot just 4-of-17 from behind the arc (including Buddy Hield’s 3-of-10 3FG). The Spartans weren’t exactly scorching the nets, either, but their offensive surge to start and end the second half proved enough to win.

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How Can Michigan State Keep Things Rolling Against Oklahoma?

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 27th, 2015

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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.

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Sweet Sixteen Storylines: South and East Regionals

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 27th, 2015

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Tonight the Sweet Sixteen moves to Syracuse and Houston, so let’s take a look at the top five storylines in the East and South Regions.

South Storylines

1. Is this finally Gonzaga’s year? Mention Gonzaga to a casual college basketball fan, and more often than not, the word ‘overrated’ pops into his head. The Bulldogs have had some really impressive regular seasons under Mark Few, making the NCAA Tournament every year since he took over in 1999. But time after time, the Zags have come up short in March. Few has never taken Gonzaga past the Sweet Sixteen as a head coach, but this could be the year that the drought ends. This year’s team is more complete and well-rounded than most previous editions, and the final hurdle on the path to the Elite Eight is a #11 seed — albeit a strong one — in UCLA. A program-first Final Four might also be within reach, but let’s not put the cart before the horse just yet — for many reasons, the Zags need to win tonight.

Is this finally the year for Mark Few and Gonzaga? (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Is this finally the year for Mark Few and Gonzaga? (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

2. Duke’s recent Tourney hiccups. Since winning the 2010 National Championship, Mike Krzyzewski’s postseason record has actually been pretty lackluster. He came into this year 5-4 in the NCAA Tournaments from 2011-14 and he has been on the wrong end of some stunning upsets — losses to #15 seed Lehigh in 2012 and #14 seed Mercer a year ago. Even the 2011 Sweet Sixteen loss to #5 seed Arizona was unexpected. It’s exactly that kind of loss that Duke will be hoping to avoid this time around against a dangerous Utah squad.

3. Back aboard the Utah bandwagon? The Utes faded from the spotlight late in the season. They lost three of their last five games and exited the Pac-12 Tournament by losing to Oregon for the second time in less than a month. But they were businesslike last weekend in handling Stephen F. Austin and Georgetown, and come into tonight’s contest as only a five-point underdog against Duke. Utah has been a top 10 KenPom team since early January, and after a methodical but strong second half dispatching of the Hoyas, it seems like everybody has fallen back in love with the Utes as a Final Four sleeper. Read the rest of this entry »

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