2014 NCAA Tournament, Michigan State vs. Virginia: My Super Sweet Sixteen Preview

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

After outlasting Coastal Carolina and dispatching Memphis, the Hoos finally made it to New York to take on Sparty in the Sweet Sixteen.

Start spreading the news. I'm leaving today. I want to be a part of it...

New York, New York.

After two failed attempts, the Virginia Cavaliers are finally going to play in Madison Square Garden, and man is it a doozy. Friday night, the number one seed Wahoos are taking on the fourth seeded Spartans of Michigan State in a matchup that many have been anticipated since the release of the East bracket.

To reach this point, the Spartans, led by veteran coach Tom Izzo, defeated Delaware 93-78 in a high scoring affair, and then snuck past a plucky Harvard squad 80-73.  Michigan State has had a different standout in each of their games so far. Senior Adreian Payne dropped a casual 41 points (a career high) against Delaware, and junior Branden Dawson impressed against Harvard with 18 points, nine rebounds, and five assists (but also had three fouls and four tunovers).

Virginia plodded along and used a second half run sparked by eight quick points from Evan "Takeoff" Nolte off the bench to put away a feisty Coastal Carolina in their first game. The Hoos rebounded from their shaky start to run a clinic on the eighth seeded Memphis, controlling tempo, suffocating on defense, and scoring with ease en route to the 78-60 victory that finally punched their ticket to Madison Square Garden.

Projected Michigan State Starters:

C- Adreian Payne, (Sr., 6-10, 245)

G- Keith Appling (Sr., 6-1, 185)

G- Branden Dawson (Jr., 6-6, 225)

G- Gary Harris (So., 6-4, 210)

G- Denzel Valentine (So., 6-5, 225)

Storylines to Watch:

Michigan State injury woes- It has been no secret that the Spartans have had more than their fair share of injuries to deal with in the 2013-2014 season. Dawson's hand. Appling's wrist. Payne's foot. Appling's back. Appling's shoulder. Their January 25th loss to Michigan, only their second loss of the season, came with Payne and Dawson out and Appling limping along.

Michigan State continued to struggle down the stretch, losing six of their last ten regular season games, including a painful one at Illinois. The trio of Appling, Payne, and Dawson started the first two Big Ten games together, but didn't play together again until March 6, the penultimate game of their regular season. After stumbling at Ohio State just before the B1G Tournament, the Spartans made a statement by rattling off three straight wins over Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Michigan to take the title.

And just like that, the bandwagon was up and running as the media, and even the President, clamored to get a front row seat to MSU's resurgence. In this year's ESPN Bracket Challenge, 14.6% chose Michigan State to win it all (compared to just 3.8% for Virginia). While Michigan State is a phenomenal team filled with strong talent and a world-class coach, are they playing enough as a unit to continue their push further into the postseason? Which leads me to the next storyline...

Turnovers and fouls- One major side effect of not having your starting rotation playing together for a couple months during the heart of your conference season is that loss of communication and ability to act as a cohesive unit. In just the past two games, the Spartans have committed 47 fouls, giving up 53 points at the charity stripe alone. Our friends over at The Only Colors addressed this issue in a post this week (while you're over there, check out Payne's adorable BFF and if you can help!).

On top of the fouls, the Spartans have turned the ball over 25 times in the NCAA tournament, 18 of which came from starters (72%). Conversely, Virginia turned the ball over just 17 times in the last two games, with only eight of those coming from the starting five (47%). Obviously, the starters are in the game longer and therefore have more of an opportunity to turn the ball over, but it's just an observation. Virginia isn't a team that forces turnovers with the pack line defense, but could be a factor in making Michigan State's passing game to be more crisp and leave them less room for mistakes.

When it comes to fouls, Virginia has done a pretty consistent job so far in the NCAAs, accruing 32 personal fouls (16 per game), and their opponents only converting eight and nine points, respectively. On the flip side, Virginia has done well getting to the line in the post season, and is shooting over 80% (33-41). One big key for this game will be players like Anthony Gill and Malcolm Brogdon going hard to the basket looking for contact and getting the likes of Payne in foul trouble early.

Always the underdog, never the bride- That's the phrase, right? With Michigan State returning to their pre-injury lineup, the Spartans are favored by 2 (according to Vegas Insider) in the Sweet Sixteen matchup. Virginia has thrived all season using the underdog mentality, so that isn't much of a worry. Shane Ryan from Grantland put together a fantastic piece on the lack of respect Virginia has gotten in the media and the general public that I highly recommend you read.

In this case, I expect people and pundits picking MSU has less to do with 'disrespecting' Virginia and expecting Michigan State to live up to their potential. This game is one of (if not THE) marquis matchup of the weekend, especially if ticket prices are any indication. The Spartans have an abundance of talent, experience, and a well disciplined coach.

Predictions:

This is tough. No game from here on out is going to be easy, but this has to be one of the toughest the Cavaliers will face. According to KenPom, Michigan State ranks ninth in adjusted offense and 41st in adjusted defense. Virginia is 5th in adjusted defense and 20th in adjusted offense. The Hoos are clicking right now, especially London Perrantes and Anthony Gill.

Perrantes has 20 points on 6-11 shooting (5-8 from three), is perfect from the line (3-3), and has eight assists and ZERO turnovers in 69 minutes of play. Remember when he was a first year? Yeah, me neither. Gill has 30 points on 12-17 shooting and is 6-9 from the line.

Beyond that, Akil Mitchell is a perfect 4-4 from the field in the last two games, Joe (#SWOON) Harris is shooting 50% from the field and 36% from three and has 27 points. Malcolm, who has struggled a little, still has 24 points and is always a driving threat in the lane.

If Virginia can keep forcing teams to bend to their will and play their pace, I think the Cavaliers will win this game. Michigan State, like Memphis, likes to get out and run. Unlike Memphis, however, MSU is more disciplined. Virginia's deliberate pace will put the onus on the Spartans to play 19-35 seconds of no-foul defense each time down the court, which could be difficult for them.

I think Gill continues his hot streak, London hits a couple threes, and Malcolm gets his groove back and the Hoos use a second half Cavalanche to head to the Elite Eight. 66-58 Virginia.

Four more games, why not us?

GO HOOS!

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