As pointed out earlier by Mike Miller, making the Sweet 16 is a good accomplishment for any program. But since 1999 the Michigan State Spartans are used to advancing beyond that. In those 13 tournaments, the Spartans have made 7 Elite-8 appearances. So what do they need to do to make 8 of 14.
The opponent: the Big East tournament champions, the Louisville Cardinals, winners of six straight games.
Here are five keys to Michigan State advancing:
- Michigan State is one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the nation. They grab 37% of their own misses (25th nationally). Louisville is 223rd in defensive rebounding. But only two teams in the nation force more missed shots than Louisville. Michigan State is going to miss plenty. The key will how many they get back.
- Draymond Green is ranked first in Ken Pomeroy’s national player of the year standings, and his game is as gaudy as his numbers. He’s averaging a double-double and throws in 4 assists as well. He blocks shots, he gets steals, and he draws 5 fouls a game. Louisville doesn’t have a great matchup for him. He needs to have a big game.
- Austin Thornton might be the least talked about starter, but don’t sleep on him. He only takes 10% of the shots when he’s on the floor, so it’s easy to do. When he does shoot he makes half his 2s, 47% of his 3s and 87% of his free throws.
- Keith Appling. Louisville’s pressure defense can be intense, and Appling has occasional turnover woes. If Appling can consistently get Michigan State smoothly into their half court sets, that will go a long way toward securing a Spartan win.
- When Russ Smith comes in the game, guard him. The Louisville guard takes over 35% of their shots when he’s on the floor. To put that in perspective, Draymond Green – who has taken 155 shots more than any other Spartan – attempts 28% of their shots. Russ Smith is going to shoot. Five times he’s scored at least 20 points. Against Kentucky he scored 30. Don’t let that happen.