Michigan State v Penn State

Elite 8 Preview: No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 7 UConn

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source: Getty Images
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On Sunday morning, we will be breaking down the final two Elite 8 matchups. Here is our look at No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 7 UConn:

WHEN: Sunday, 2:20 p.m. (TBS)

WHERE: Madison Square Garden (East Region)

MAJOR STORY LINES: UConn will be looking to make their first trip to the Final Four under a coach other than the legendary Jim Calhoun. Shabazz Napier will be looking to cement his legacy as the second-coming of Kemba Walker. On the other side, Michigan State will be looking to send their seniors — Adreian Payne and Keith Appling — to the Final Four, the first of their career. If the Spartans lose, Payne and Appling will go down as the first players in Tom Izzo’s tenure with the Spartans to spend four years in East Lansing without making a Final Four.

KEY STATS: Michigan State has this reputation for being a team that plays rugby on a basketball court. Three yards and a cloud of dust. It may surprise you, then, that was this group does as well as anyone in the country is shoot the three. The same can be said about UConn, as both programs sit just a shade under 40% from beyond the arc on the season. Who’s hitting their jumpers on Sunday?

KEY PLAYERS: This game has a ton of star power. Shabazz Napier, Gary Harris, Adreian Payne. The list goes on. On Friday night, when UConn knocked off Iowa State, DeAndre Daniels went off for 27 points and 10 boards, scoring 13 of UConn’s first 15 points in the second half. When Daniels plays like that, UConn is a completely different team. Shabazz Napier is their all-american. He’s their guy. But when he doesn’t have to do it all, the Huskies are so much more dangerous.

POINT SPREAD: Michigan State (-5.5)

THREE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. Who guards Adreian Payne?: Payne is like Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky in that he’s just a nightmare to try and matchup with. He’s 6-foot-11 with three-point range, the ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim, and a post game. UConn doesn’t have anyone to guard him, but Payne has a habit of going through scoring droughts.

2. Does Branden Dawson stay hot?: He’s averaged 17.5 points and 8.2 boards since the start of the Big Ten tournament, shooting 69.7% from the floor during that stretch. He’ll be guarded by the likes of Niels Giffey, Daniels and Lasan Kromah on Sunday. That’s going to be a tough cover for the Huskies.

3. UConn’s transition defense: Michigan State wants to run. That’s what they do. They get out in transition and try to get easy buckets. There are two easy ways to start a fast break: turnovers and bad shots. UConn has a habit of doing both.

CBT PREDICTION: Michigan State

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.