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NCAA Tournament Previews: Michigan State

For the 2nd year in a row, the Hoos face an underseeded Michigan State in the NCAA tourney. This year's Spartan team is not as good as last year's, having lost 2 first round NBA draft picks. They are still dangerous. When 100%, the Hoos are a better team than they were last year, despite being a lower seed this year. But, we all know that the Hoos may not be 100%. Last year's game was a great game, this should be also. Hopefully, the outcome is different.

With Simba back, the Hoos look to have an advantage over the Spartans.
With Simba back, the Hoos look to have an advantage over the Spartans.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Hoos survived a tough battle with Belmont, and now face a familiar foe in Michigan State. We know the Hoos lost to MSU in the Sweet 16 last year, and we don't want to rehash that experience, but we'll have to look into it a bit, to see what worked and what didn't. But first, let's get one thing straight, Michigan State is not a 7 seed. On KenPom, they are #17. On ESPN's BPI, they are #18. In RPI, they are 22. How is that a resume for a 7 seed? Last year, they fell to a 4 seed, despite a top 10 ranking on KenPom and BPI (they were 18 in RPI). The committee likes to drop Michigan State's seed, and apparently likes to make the Hoos face underseeded teams. If Michigan State were seeded accurately, they'd be a 4 or 5 seed and the Hoos would be facing an Oregon or a New Mexico State, two teams that were correctly given a 7 seed.

In their opening round matchup, Michigan State outplayed Georgia for much of the game, and yet they were up just 3 with 20 seconds remaining. They hit their FTs late, and walked away with a 7 point win. In the game, Michigan State had balanced scored, with 4 players scoring 14-16 points, and nobody else scoring more than 6. The Spartans are led by two seniors, Travis Trice and Brandon Dawson. Trice was the backup PG last year, and scored 5 points in 25 minutes in the Sweet 16 matchup. Dawson, on the other hand, was a beast. He had 24 points and 10 rebounds and shot 9/16 from the field.

Trice is now the team's leading scorer, averaging about 15 points and 5 assists. Dawson is one of the top rebounders in the nation, averaging 12 points and 9 rebounds, impressive numbers for a 6'6" PF. He's also a very good defensive player. The best player on the team, though, may be junior Denzel Valentine. He's averaging 14.5 points, 6 rebounds and over 4 assists. Valentine is a dead-eye shooter, at nearly 42% from downtown. And at 6'5" 220, he's a beast inside as well. Valentine had just 3 points in 35 minutes in last year's matchup.

The Spartans last year were led by Adrian Payne and Gary Harris. Both of them are in the NBA now (although neither of them are contributing much). Harris did not have a great game against the Hoos, but Payne had 16 points including a back breaking 3 pointer with 90 seconds remaining after the Hoos had tied it up. This version of the Spartans doesn't have a 6'10" PF who can shoot the 3. They have 4 wing players who shoot it well, Valentine, Trice, junior Bryn Forbes and freshman Marvin Clark. Clark only averages about 10 minutes per game, although he had a nice game against Indiana a couple of weeks ago when Dawson was out with an injury.

The Spartans are going to try to get out and run whenever they have the opportunity. They will play tight man-to-man defense and pressure shooters. They aren't the biggest of teams, but they do have a couple of solid big men in Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling. Neither of much of a threat on the offensive end, but both are very good defensively. Costello had 2 points, 1 rebound and a block in 4 minutes last year, and Schilling had a 4 trillion (A 4 trillion means 4 minutes and no stats accumulated). The two basically split minutes at the 5, and average 12 and 9 combined. Both Anthony Gill and Darion Atkins will have quickness advantages over both of them. Mike Tobey may not see a ton of minutes for the 2nd straight game.

In last year's matchup, Akil Mitchell spent a majority of the game guarding Payne. This may be why Dawson was such a force. The Hoos tried Gill, Tobey and even Joe Harris on Dawson, but he proved too quick and strong. This year, though, the Hoos have Darion Atkins, and the Spartans do not have Payne. Atkins should be able to slow down the Spartan big man, although Dawson is much quicker than Payne. With a guy like Atkins on him, Dawson will try to beat him off the dribble. That's easier said than done against the Pack Line Defense.

Trice will also be a problem. He's small, just 6' and 170 pounds, but he's very quick. And he can shoot. London Perrantes will try to stay in front of him, but he may not have the lateral quickness. Michigan State will also move Trice to SG at times with freshman Lourawls Nairn at PG. Both will likely handle the ball quite a bit. When Naim is in the game, Trice will probably be matched up with Brogdon. Forbes will likely get more minutes at the 2, and Brogdon will mostly check him.

That, of course, leaves Justin Anderson matched up with Valentine. Justin looked much closer to his old self in the first round matchup against Belmont. He spent a lot of time guarding Taylor Barnette, who scored just 7 points on 9 shots and was largely a non-factor in the game. Justin also scored 15 points, on 4-6 shooting, including a 3 pointer. Another game like that will go a long way towards a Wahoo victory.

Offensively, the Hoos will have a couple of good matchups. Malcolm Brogdon has been on fire, and neither Trice nor Forbes are strong enough to really match up with him. Dawson is a beast on the inside, but he's going to be giving up a bit of size to either Gill or Atkins, so they should be able to score in the post. Valentine will likely be matched up with Anderson (or Nolte), and he's not really a great defensive player. We'll get to see if Justin is really back to where he was earlier this season.

This year's Michigan State isn't as good as last year's. The Hoos actually match up fairly well against Michigan State, at least in comparison to Belmont. The Spartans aren't a particular deep team, generally going just 7 deep. They also aren't a very big team, with a 6'6" PF (Dawson) and a couple of 6'9" centers. The two teams actually have similar profiles. Both teams are sound defensively, very strong on the defensive glass, and generally do not beat themselves. The Hoos, though, are better defensively, deeper (especially now that Justin is back), better inside and shoot better from the FT line.

As always, a Tom Izzo coached team is going to be well prepared. The Spartans will try to stretch out the Pack Line by shooting 3s. They shoot a lot of 3s, especially Valentine and Trice (each has attempted more than 200 treys, more than anybody on Belmont). The key will be shutting down Dawson inside. If they can do that, they'll take their chances on Valentine and Trice hitting enough shots to beat them.