2:40 PM EST, CBS – Line: Michigan State -8.5, Over/Under: 129.5
Two of the more decorated Programs in College Basketball meet in a juicy 3-11 Matchup for the right to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, as the Third Seed Michigan State Spartans battle the Eleven Seed Syracuse Orange in the Third Round of the Midwest Regional from Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit, Michigan. Many were surprised (including Jim Boeheim himself) as Syracuse (22-13, 8-10 in ACC) were in fact selected to the NCAA Tournament, invited as one of the First Four to compete in the NCAA’s quartet of play-in games. Now we can debate all day about the Orange’s credentials (losers of five out of eight games heading into Selection Sunday) and whether or not they deserved to be selected to the Big Dance, but what we can’t underestimate is their ability to make the most of a situation. Keep in mind that just two short years ago, Boeheim’s charges followed a similar route to the Tourney, punching their ticket as a member of the First Four, parlaying that momentum into a trip to the Final Four, the Hall of Fame Coach’s fifth with the Program, and their second in the last six years. Wednesday Night’s 60-56 victory over Arizona State was indicative of their strengths and weaknesses this season, as they proved inconsistent offensively, but staunch enough on Defense to keep their opponent off balance. Behind their vaunted 2-3 Zone Defense, the Orange vexed the Sun Devils throughout the affair, relegating them to 40.4% Shooting from the Field, including 11-od-32 from Downtown (34.4%), all the while permitting them to score a scan Twenty-Eight Points in the Second Half. Keep in mind that Bobby Hurley’s team have been a Second Half Juggernaut all year, averaging 44.5 Points after Intermission. Freshman Forward Oshea Brissett (14.9 PTS, 35.2% FG, 34.0% 3FG, 8.9 REB, 1.0 AST, 1.1 STL, 0.8 BLK, 17.2 PER) put on a show, scoring a game-high Twenty-Three Points on 7-of-15 Shooting (46.7%), with Twelve Rebounds, a pair of Assists, and a Steal, while Tyus Battle (19.3 PTS, 40.1% FG, 32.0% 3FG, 3.0 REB, 2.0 AST, 1.5 STL, 17.7 PER) and Franklin Howard (14.7 PTS, 37.6% FG, 33.0% 3FG, 3.4 REB, 4.8 AST, 1.9 STL, 14.1 PER) added another Fifteen and Twelve Points respectively. The quick turnaround would not deter them from replicating that strong Second Half performance, as they bested Six Seed TCU 57-52, outscoring the Horned Frogs 30-24 after Halftime. In an ugly, defensive slugfest in which both teams shot below 40.0% from the Field, received another strong showing from Brissett, who scored Thirteen Points despite knocking down just 4-of-16 Attempts from the Floor (25.0%), while adding Nine Rebounds, an Assist, a steal, and Three Blocks, bolstered by Marek Dolezaj (5.6 PTS, 53.0% FG, 22.2% 3FG, 4.8 REB, 1.6 AST, 0.9 STL, 0.7 BLK, 13.6 PER) and his Seventeen Points, Four Rebounds and a Steal. The difference once again was the 2-3 Zone, which confounded TCU throughout the night, forcing them into nearly as many Turnovers (13) as Assists (14), and relegated them to a dismal 3-of-17 Shooting from beyond the Arc (17.6%). Despite their own considerable struggles from the Field (36.8% FG), Syracuse took excellent care of the basketball, while punishing their opponent on the glass (33-29), outrebounding 10-6 on the offensive end of the Court, which coupled with the wealth of turnovers led to a total of nine more Field Goal Attempts, making the all the difference in an affair with such a small margin for error.
Meanwhile, though they may only be Three Seed, Michigan State (30-4, 16-2 in Big Ten) remains one of the favorites to advance to San Antonio, despite the considerable difficulty of the Midwest Region, which features the likes of heavyweights such as Duke and Kansas. Nevertheless, the Big Ten Champions are well-equipped to navigate their way through such perilous waters, armed with a wealth of young, dynamic talent, and one of the finest tacticians in the country, particularly when it comes to the NCAA Tournament itself. Tom Izzo has now successfully steered the Spartans into the NCAA’s for the twenty-first consecutive year, advancing to the Sweet Sixteen on thirteen different occasions, including seven Final Fours, and a National Championship in 2000. Few Coaches are as adept at preparing their charges for the rigors of the Tournament, with today’s meeting with Syracuse serving as another opportunity to display his credentials. As we touched upon earlier, the Orange’s 2-3 Zone Defense can be immensely difficult to prepare for, particularly in a Tourney such as this where you don’t see it often and have such a limited amount of time to prepare for it. Fortunately for the Spartans, they do not lack in offensive firepower; certainly one of Izzo’s more explosive teams, Michigan State averaged 81.0 Points (36th Overall) on 50.5% Shooting from the Field (5th Overall), including 55.7% from within the Three-Point Line (24th Overal), and 41.0% from beyond it (6th Overall), while dishing out the most Assists in the country (19.4). Five different players score in double-figures, led by Super Sophomore Miles Bridges (17.3 PTS, 46.7% FG, 37.2% 3FG, 7.0 REB, 2.8 AST, 0.6 STL, 0.8 BLK, 23.3 PER), with fellow classmates Cassius Winston (12.6 PTS, 51.5% FG, 51.4% 3FG, 3.4 REB, 6.9 AST, 0.6 STL, 23.5 PER), Nick Ward (12.5 PTS, 64.5% FG, 7.2 REB,0.5 AST, 1.4 BLK, 32.5 PER), and Joshua Langford (12.0 PTS, 44.2% FG, 42.2% 3FG, 2.9 REB, 1.6 AST, 0.4 STL, 13.5 PER) chipping in in a variety of ways. However, don’t let their offensive fireworks fool you into thinking that Izzo is letting them take it easy on the defensive end of the Court, for this group has been every bit as menacing on Defense as they’ve been in the past; the Spartans have permitted just 65.2 Points per Game this year (23rd Overall), while a mere 36.7% Shooting from the Field (1st Overall), including 38.3% inside the Arc (1st Overall), with each figure ranking tops in the Nation, while continuing to dominate the glass (Plus-10.6 REB) and racking up a healthy 7.3 Blocks (1st Overall). Freshman Forward Jaren Jackson Jr. (11.2 PTS, 52.2% FG, 39.6% 3FG, 5.7 REB, 1.1 AST, 0.6 STL, 3.1 BLK, 27.3 PER) has been HUGE in this regard, utilizing his athletic, 6-11 frame to contest a plethora of shots at the rim. With all that said, they’ll need a more concerted effort than the one that they put forth in their 82-78 victory over Bucknell Friday Night if they intend to progress any farther in this Tournament. The Spartans looked lethargic on the defensive end, allowing the Bison to shoot a blistering 11-of-20 from Downtown (50.0%), while constantly putting them on the Free-Throw Line, where they knocked down 21-of-28 Attempts. This allowed a Fourteen Seed to keep things dangerously close, outscoring Izzo’s charges Twenty-Four Points in those two categories. Fortunately, the tandem of Bridges and Langford caught fire, accounting for Fifty-One Points on 19-of-32 Shooting (59.4%) including 4-of-10 from Three (40.0%).