It’s no secret that Michigan State is good. Nobody is sleeping on this giant. Sparty is hitting its stride and finding its rhythm at just the right time. Adreian Payne was monstrous against Delaware scoring 41 points and grabbing 8 rebounds. Travis Trice is looking the best he’s ever looked. This team seemingly has seen and done it all. They’ve been #1. They’ve been a ragtag group of scrappers in the wake of ridiculous injury problems. They’ve been the pride of the Big Ten. Now, they are picked by many to cut down the nets in Dallas. Michigan State is a juggernaut of a team and seemingly unstoppable.
That is unless they run into a hungry Cinderella of a team in the process. We’ve seen in this first part of the tournament, giant slayers and dream crushers in the form of smaller schools. Just earlier today Mercer knocked off Duke to do the impossible. Dayton beat Ohio State. North Dakota State beat Oklahoma. Harvard beat Cincinnati. That’s not to mention teams like Manhattan and Albany that kept it very close against #1 seeds as #16 seeds. It has been madness and March has lived up to its billing.
The game between Michigan State and Harvard will definitely keep up the excitement. Harvard, over the last 2 years, has won 2 NCAA tournament games over quality teams (New Mexico and Cincinnati). Tommy Amaker, former in-state rival to Tom Izzo and protege of Mike Kryzewski, knows how to get the most out of his team. Harvard point guard Siyani Chambers has the potential to beat MSU. He can control the tempo and take teams out of their rhythm. MSU is a fast moving team. They fly around the court, lob passes, and score points from all levels. They can beat teams inside. They can beat teams outside. They can beat teams at the free throw line. That is all true if and only if, the tempo favors them.
Harvard, on the other hand, plays a slowed down form of small ball. Through sound fundamental basketball and reserved tenacity, Harvard has become a giant slayer. What bigger talent on what bigger stage would Harvard want than to take down MSU in the NCAA Tournament? Especially with the history between these two magnificent coaches. Six years Tommy Amaker spent facing Tom Izzo as Michigan’s head basketball coach. These men know each other very well both personally and professionally. They consider themselves to be close friends, but still coaching adversaries. It will be intriguing to see how the players play, but all the more exciting to see the coaches coach. These guys are the perfect storm of skill and determination.
Tommy Amaker is looking to prove that he belongs in the discussion of quality, if not elite, coaches. Tom Izzo is looking to cut down the nets for the 2nd time in his career after leading his Senior class to its first Final Four. Harvard is looking to prove its worth and finally be taken seriously. Michigan State is looking to prove that it can live up to the hype and rise to the level of champions. Both teams truly control their own destinies. Harvard can continue its run to legitimacy and acceptance if it can pull off yet another upset over a highly seeded team. Michigan State can show that it has the stuff of champions by holding off yet another upstart Cinderella looking to knock off the top dogs.
I think this game comes down to several X-Factors if you will.
1. Whoever controls the tempo, wins the game.
Plain and simple, tempo will be the deciding factor of who moves on and who goes home. Michigan State can fly over Harvard and steamroll the Crimson if they so choose. Harvard can put its small ball to the test and slow down the tempo if they so choose. It comes down to which floor general can control the game. Whether it be Siyani Chambers or Keith Appling, one of these players will win the game for his team.
2. Perimeter defense will blot out the sun.
MSU let the cat out of the bag with its 3 point shooting against Delaware. Adreian Payne, Gary Harris, Travis Trice, and Denzel Valentine combined for 30 points off of 3 point shots on 10-19 shooting. Overall, the Spartans shot almost 53% on 3’s. Those are scary numbers for any team to have to face. Harvard, however, is very aware of this and can clamp down on perimeter defense to make MSU win it inside the arc. Look for Tommy Amaker to keep Adreian Payne contained to the paint and make his guards do all the shooting. If MSU can overcome this, watch out for Sparty to take over.
3. Which Branden Dawson will we see?
Branden Dawson is one of MSU’s elite players. That is, however, when he decides to show up. Last night against Delaware, Dawson was very quiet with a respectable 10 points. However, when he is in the game mentally, he is a game changer. Tom Izzo has referred to Branden Dawson as the heart and soul of this MSU squad. If he plays to his full potential, this will be a blowout in Michigan State’s favor. Any way you slice it, Branden Dawson’s play, or lack thereof, will have a significant impact on the outcome of this game.
4. Prediction: MSU 88-Harvard 75.
I think I’ll stick with MSU on this one. I love this Harvard team. I think Tommy Amaker is an excellent coach and an underrated one as well. However, I don’t think they have the pedigree, depth, and experience to hang with MSU. I think that this game is going to be one of the better games one is likely to watch in this tournament. Harvard will absolutely play their hearts out. Michigan State will play with grit and tenacity as always. If Michigan State can pull off the win, it will have certainly solidified people’s faith in their ability to win it all.
That’s just me thinking. What do you think will happen? Please comment below and let me know what you think. Go Green!