Tip-Off: 5:15 p.m ET
Place: Bok Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Michigan State Basketball defeated Miami in impressive fashion, and their reward is a date with No. 1 seed Kansas (29-4). The Jayhawks advanced by defeating UC Davis in blowout fashion as well. This game comes with many storylines as well as a high profile freshmen matchup that is sure to be can’t miss TV.
Good guard play wins games in the NCAA Tournament. The old adage applies to Kansas. The Jayhawks boast perhaps the best backcourt in the country outside of Lexington, Kentucky. Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham are sure to pose matchup problems for Michigan State.
The majority of Kansas points come from the three-headed monster of Graham (13.2 ppg), Mason III (20.8 ppg), and star freshmen Josh Jackson (16.4 ppg). Like Miami, much of this game comes down to whether Michigan State’s perimeter defenders can stay with the explosive guard scoring of Kansas. I expect Tom Izzo to have Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn Jr on Frank Mason III, making it difficult for Mason III to get to the basket.
Perhaps the biggest storyline of the game is the Jackson and Miles Bridges matchup. Jackson grew up a Michigan State fan. He is from Detroit. He was recruited heavily by Tom Izzo and his staff, so much so that a t-shirt Bridges wore when he committed had Jackson’s name on the back. But, Jackson went to Kansas, and now the Spartans get their shot at payback.
Michigan State shot just 30 percent from 3-point range against Miami, a number that is going to have to be higher if they want to pull off the upset. The Spartans also need to keep the turnovers down because Kansas likes to get out in the fastbreak and get easy baskets. Michigan State is the inferior team in terms of talent, so focusing on the little things will be necessary to win.
Kansas does not have a ton of depth or scoring options in it’s front court. Landen Lucas carries most of the duties in terms of post defense in rebounding, but he is not a huge scoring threat from the low block. MSU big man Nick Ward should be fed early and often, forcing Kansas to dig out or double team the post opening up perimeter shooters.
The Jayhawks are a team that wears people down, in terms of their constant scoring from their guards and their ability to defend for 40 minutes. However, they also play a lot of close games. Despite winning the Big 12 yet again, Kansas does not blow teams out often. This game should be close, simply due to Kansas propensity to play close games.
For MSU, the keys to winning are much the same as they have always been. Feed Ward early, and a perimeter guard needs to step up and score for the Spartans. I expect both Bridges and Jackson to have good games. They are used to playing with and against each other from their time in the AAU circuit as high profile recruits.
This game should be close. There is no reason to believe Kansas will blow out MSU given how they have played this year. But in the end, Kansas is the better team, they have a player of the year candidate in Mason III, and that should win out. I like to Kansas to beat the Spartans, 79-71.