On Wednesday and Thursday, we will be breaking down all eight of the Sweet 16 matchups. Here is our look at No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 4 Michigan State:
WHEN: Friday, 9:57 p.m.
WHERE: Madison Square Garden, New York (East Region)
MAJOR STORY LINES: On Monday, the two story lines that really mattered here were that Michigan State was looking to get back to the Final Four for the first time in since Keith Appling and Adreian Payne enrolled while Virginia was looking to prove themselves after a season of being overlooked and, if you ask them, disrespected. But that all changed when the rumors of Tom Izzo to the Detroit Pistons popped up.
KEY STATS: Michigan State has a reputation for being a grind-it-out, physical team built for wrestling matches that feature jump shots. But Tom Izzo’s teams run the floor as much as any other team in the country, with 21.9% of their possessions coming in transition. That’s a very high number, but the Spartans won’t get many chances against the ‘Hoos, as Tony Bennett’s teams limit transition opportunities as much as possible, often times sending just one or two guys to the offensive glass. To get an idea of what this matters, Virginia, who is fifth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom, is in the 90th percentile in half court defense, according to Synergy, and just the 77th percentile in transition defense.
In other words, scoring against their set defense is hard to do, so the Spartans will be looking to run more than ever. If they can, they’ll have a very good chance to win.
KEY PLAYERS: He’s not the most consistent player on the Michigan State roster, but there may not be a more dominant player in the entire tournament than Adreian Payne when he gets it rolling. He’s a freak athlete at 6-foot-11 with three-point range, the ability to get to the rim off the dribble and an array of post moves. We all saw what he did to Delaware in the opening round — 41 points, 10-for-15 shooting, 4-for-5 from three. Akil Mitchell, Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey will be charged with keeping him in check. Good luck.
POINT SPREAD: Michigan State (-2)
THREE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:
1. Keith Appling’s wrist: Appling just hasn’t seemed healthy since around mid-February, when he reportedly suffered a setback to a wrist that he injured back in December. It’s hampered his ability to shoot, as he’s 9-for-21 from the line and 2-for-13 from three since returning, and it’s taken away his aggressiveness offensively. Playing against a team as good as Virginia is on that end of the floor, an ineffective Appling could be a killer.
2. Three-point shooting: Another example of how reputations can be misleading, this Michigan State team is top 15 nationally in three-point percentage, taking more than 35% of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc. Virginia plays a packline defense and are fairly adept at getting out to shooters.
3. Malcolm Brogdon: Joe Harris was the guy everyone talked about entering the season. London Perrantes has been the guy everyone’s talked about since the season began. But Brogdon has been the best player on Virginia this year, and one of the best players in the ACC. I would expect Gary Harris to draw the assignment, as he is one of the best defenders left in the tournament. That will be fun to watch.
CBT PREDICTION: Michigan State