The Belles of the Ball in the East Region meet up Friday night when Michigan State takes on Virginia. It’s time to separate the good teams from the great ones and this game will do just that. Can MSU live up to the national title hype? Can Virginia live up to its #1 seed billing? This will be a debutante ball of a Sweet Sixteen match and whoever wins has legitimate national title hopes.
Michigan State really had to dig deep in order to knock off upset minded Harvard. Virginia, on the other hand, dominated for the entirety of its match against tournament tested Memphis. Spartan fans were on the edge of their seats watching as the Spartans narrowly won. Virginia fans never had to worry as their Cavaliers put an 18 point “W” on the board. What I’m getting at here is that the route to this point for these two teams has been very different.
Michigan State has always been the favorite in its games up until this point. They faced both a #13 and a #12 seed respectively. No real need for concern on paper anyways. Now, Michigan State is the underdog in this game. Virginia is the #1 seed of the region and rightfully so. Virginia has now faced a #16 seed and a #8 seed en route to the Sweet Sixteen. Though favored in both games, there was never any doubt of Virginia’s dominance. Things have been a bit more shaky for Michigan State. Though many have MSU winning it all, Virginia stacks up pretty well against Michigan State. As I mentioned in my Harvard preview (http://spartanavenue.com/2014/03/21/michigan-state-harvard-preview/) tempo will be the deciding factor in this game as well.
Here are my X factors for this game:
1.Tempo, Tempo, Tempo.
Michigan State has shown its ability to fly up and down the court. Sparty averages 19 transition points per game. That being said, Virginia’s stingy defense has allowed only 7 transition points per game. What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? The answer to that question will determine the outcome of this game. If Michigan State, and especially Branden Dawson, can score big points in transition, victory for MSU is almost a certainty. Virginia has the ability to win this game by shutting down the Spartans’ transition and fast break game. They’ve done it throughout the Tournament and this game should be no different. Bring your sparklers, because the fireworks are about to fly.
2. Post Presence
The marquee player on player match is Adreian Payne taking on Virginia’s Akil Mitchell. Though Mitchell isn’t the versatile scorer Adreian Payne is, he is every bit the defender. Will Adreian Payne be able to set up shop in the paint or will Akil Mitchell shut him down? Also, how much of Adreian Payne’s three point shooting will shine through? Can the Cavaliers shut down Adreian Payne in the post, perimeter, and free throw line? It’s a tall order for anybody, but I think if anyone can do it, it’s Virginia. This is going to be trench warfare at its finest and I think Payne has the upper hand, but only time will tell.
3. Keeping up with the Harrises
Two key players outside the post are Gary Harris for MSU and Joe Harris for Virginia. These two are some of college basketball’s most prolific shooters when they are on their game. Through the 2nd and 3rd rounds of the tournament Gary Harris has averaged 14 points per game. Joe Harris is equally electrifying averaging a 13.5 point per game contribution. When these guys are at their best, they are absolutely scary. Their ability to take advantage of elaborate screens all over the court, to make open shots, and to make plays is downright ridiculous. Whichever player between these two steps up and plays, will lead his team to victory.
Prediction: MSU 85 Virginia 83
This game is arguably the biggest match of the Sweet Sixteen. Michigan State has the ability to win in transition, at the perimeter, at the free throw line, and in the post. However, so does Virginia. The biggest difference between MSU and Virginia is experience and hunger. Michigan State’s prior experience in the NCAA Tournament will show through. Virginia, though no stranger to the tournament itself, still doesn’t quite stack up to MSU’s tournament pedigree. Who wants it more? The Spartans may be the favorites to win it all, but Virginia’s still the #1 seed in the region. I think the Spartans are too hungry and driven to let this game slip through the cracks. Sparty upsets the Cavaliers in a barn burner at Madison Square Garden to advance to the Elite Eight.
That’s just me thinking though. What do you think? Comment below and let me know your predictions for this game. Go Green!