Round Of 8 Matchup: #7 Connecticut Vs. #4 Michigan State
- CoachingIt’s only Kevin Ollie’s second season as the new UConn head coach, but already he’s got the Huskies all the way to the Elite Eight. The Huskies are rallying around their new coach in a big way this post-season, but coming up against Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo and his squad is a whole new challenge, considering the amount of experience Izzo has in this familiar situation.Coach Tom Izzo is legendary not just in East Lansing, Michigan, but around the country. Since 1995, Izzo has led the Spartans to a National Championship in 2000, played for the National Championship in 2009, been to six Final Fours, and earned seven Big Ten Championships. To top it off, Michigan State has been to 16 consecutive NCAA tournaments under Izzo. There’s good reason he’s known as Mr. March, because as he showed by getting in his own player’s faces during the Virginia matchup, he comes to win in the Big Dance. This is his eighth Elite Eight.
- OffenseGuard Shabazz Napier will once again be the player to watch in this matchup against MSU, with 17.8 points per game in the regular season, he’s already averaging over 20 ppg so far this tournament and takes control of a stacked offense with each new battle. It was another player, though, who took command of the UConn offense over the Cyclones in forward DeAndre Daniels, who had 27 points and a double-double. Guard Ryan Boatright, scored in the double digits, as well, in the Huskies’ Sweet 16 matchup against Iowa State and should be watched in this game.Michigan State proved yet again that their starters are some of the best in the country. In the first round match up, Adreian Payne scored a MSU record 41 points in the tournament against Delaware. Come the second round, it was Branden Dawson who took the lead and scored a career-high 26 points and he carried that momentum into their Sweet 16 matchup with Virginia with 24 more. Still, the Spartans’ offense did struggle at times making long shots against the top Cavaliers’ defense, but proved once again how versatile they really are overall down the line.
- DefenseThe Huskies had no easy task in putting a stop to the Iowa State offense, but they managed to handle the Cyclones fairly easily despite a few hiccups early in the game and late. Iowa State’s offense waned in the middle, but Michigan State’s offense is relentless and able to battle back from setbacks. UConn only allowed 63.7 points per game in the regular season, and was 8th overall in the nation in blocks. If Michigan State has a weakness, it’s when they make mistakes with themselves when dealing with a particularly tricky defense like that of the kind that UConn possesses.Michigan State’s defense is big, and with big players like Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson to snatch rebounds and eliminate second-chance opportunities, opponents rarely get to make mistakes. The Spartans defense boomed out of the gates against Virginia, but eventually saw a number of nagging issues they displayed earlier in the tournament turn back up. As always, though, they played an extremely physical game and had their hands full overall with the Cavs, but found a way to make it work.
- Bench DepthConnecticut got two huge performances from key bench players in their early round matchup with Villanova, including double digit scoring performances from guards Terrence Samuel and Lasan Kromah. Lately, though, UConn doesn’t often have to rely on their bench, with star Shabazz Napier hauling in 20+ points per night and nearly all of their starters scoring in the double digits. Samuel still added 10 points against the Cyclones all in the second half, just for good measure.On any given night, you never can truly tell which Spartan is going to stand out and make a difference for Tom Izzo’s squad, and that’s just how he likes it. Michigan State’s bench is deep with talent. From Travis Trice and Matt Costello, to the three-point threat of Kenny Kaminski, MSU usually has an answer for any situation. Everyone on Izzo’s bench plays a role.
Michigan State proved they can overcome the nation’s top defense in Virginia, so at this point, it would seem that only the Spartans themselves can cause their own demise. Connecticut has a potent offense, but MSU knows this situation and is playing with momentum, which should see them to yet another Final Four. -Michael Ferro is freelance writer and a graduate of Michigan State University where he majored in Creative Writing and received the Jim Cash Creative Writing Award. Born and bred in Detroit, he currently resides in near Ann Arbor, MI. Additional writing can be found at Examiner.com.