#1 MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS (29-7, 13-5) v. #4 LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (28-9, 10-8)
NCAA TOURNAMENT SWEET SIXTEEN
U.S. AIRWAYS CENTER, PHOENIX, ARIZONA
THURSDAY, MARCH 22, 2012 @ 7:47 PM EST
For the tenth time in fifteen years, Michigan State is in the Sweet 16, and if they hope to advance to Saturday’s Elite 8, they have to get passed a tough Louisville squad. I’d say for the Spartans, it’s a good thing we have a coach that is 7-2 in the Sweet 16 and winners of the last two appearances.
For Rick Pitino’s group, it all starts with Peyton Siva who averages 9.2 points and 5.2 assists per game. The focus however, won’t be on Louisville’s offense, but rather on their defense. Pitino teams are infamous for their full court pressure defense that often combines full court and half court traps designed to force steals, turnovers, and stupid decisions. The last time these two teams met up in the NCAA tournament was in 2009 and saw the Spartans advance passed Lousville in large part due to Kalin Lucas’ success in breaking the press. Louisville had no other choice but to abandon their game plan early on and attempt to play the Spartans head on.
Theorized byIzzo this week, and later confirmed by Pitino, the Cardinals have no intention of letting up the press tonight, regardless of the score, which puts Keith Appling and Travis Trice’s play at a premium importance.
Keys to victory:
- Limit turnovers. The Spartans haven’t been doing too bad as of late with 10.6 turnovers a game in the post season. Certainly that number could be better, and up against a team like Louisville, if the guards are not prepared for the capture of the defense, it could easily spiral out of control to be a 15+ turnover night.
- Payne and Nix. In the last meeting with the Cardinals, Goran Suton hit Louisville with 17 first half points. Lucas was able to break the press going into half court and facilitate to Suton who took smart, high percentage shots. Assuming Appling and Trice can break Louisville’s press, they will be looking for Payne and Nix down low for those same easy buckets.
- Rebounding. Louisville, self-admittedly, is outmatched on the glass. But that is not to say that they will automatically secede from the rebounding battle. Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng will definitely get after the ball and compete with Green, Payne, and Nix for rebounds. If the Spartans do what they’re suppose to, we should be all good on the glass. The game changes immensley though if we start to lose what little advantage we have.
Prediction: The Spartans lead all teams going into the third round of tournament play, connecting on 57% of their field goals. I believe that trend continues tonight. Watch for Appling to have his early struggles breaking the press, but half time adjustments will open up Spartan guards to bring the ball up the court and fascilitate to wide open shooters. Brandon Wood and Austin Thornton should be drilling three-pointers left and right in clutch situations. Louisville is going to do some serious running and this thing is going to go down as one of the most talked about games in the 2012 tournament. MSU 83, Louisville 79.
BTW: MSU will be one man lighter this weekend. Branden Dawson was reportedly excused off of the team bus due to a missed class assignment. From the sounds of it, this should be an extremely humbling moment for Dawson as he’ll be forced to watch MSU from home. I would love nothing more to see him help the team celebrate a birth in the Final Four on the court Saturday (should we be fortunate enough to have it come to that), but from the sounds of it, this is an Izzo life lesson that hopefully this young man can grow from. Dawson will arguably be one of the focal points for the team moving forward next season.