Scouting Final Four teams: How to beat Michigan State

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NBC Sports spoke with a dozen coaches in the last two days to put together a scouting report for each of the teams in the Final Four. 

The coaches were granted anonymity in exchange for honesty. 

We started with Virginia. Then we gave you Auburn and Texas Tech. So last but not least, Michigan State.

‘CASSIUS IS PEYTON MANNING’

What Michigan State does starts and, more often than not, ends with their all-american point guard Cassius Winston, who has thrown this team on his back and carried them to the Final Four after leading them to Big Ten regular season and tournament titles.

“Cassius Winston is a true point guard. He’s a QB. He is Peyton Manning. They play off of him. They put him in a ton of ball-screens, but they also move him around. They run him off wide pindowns, they put him in flares, they even used him as a screener for the game-winner against Duke. But it all comes back to him.”

“They don’t just screen you once. They’ll run Cassius off a ball-screen and you’ll switch. Then he’ll run off it again, and you switch again. Then they’ll run it a third time, and suddenly you’re 17 feet from the rim and he makes a floater over your big.”

“He’s not big and he’s not all that fast, but he finds a way to get where he wants. He knows how to play.”

“We talked a lot about how much they run in the halfcourt. A lot of wide pindowns, and they’re good at running off those. You can’t let them catch it where they want to. No curls, no catching it where they want to get the ball.”

“They have counters to their counters, and they run their stuff really well.”

(Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

THE TRANSITION GAME

He doesn’t really have the reputation for it nationally, but outside of Roy Williams and North Carolina, there may not be a better coach at teaching the fast break than Tom Izzo. And there is not a better point guard at leading the fast break than Cassius Winston.

“I don’t know if you can run as fast forwards as they can run backwards. They go so fast on about 30 possessions a game. You can’t catch them. They’ll get whatever they want because they’re running wide and Cassius is as good as anyone int he world at getting the ball to their guys where they need it.”

“Their bigs are big, but they will sprint their asses off to get to the rim because they know Cash will find them.”

“The very first thing we talked about was the transition game. Defense to offense. Those hit-ahead passes where they’re trying to score early in the clock, Cash is so good at those. He’s not a jet, but he just keeps coming and coming and coming.”

“They run off of misses. They run off of makes. They got a couple of buckets running off of made free throws against Duke. You’re just playing catchup the entire time. You can’t get back fast enough. You have to make them take it out of the bucket.”

“You cannot let them pass it across halfcourt. You have to make them dribble it across halfcourt. I think you have to press them. Just pick up in the backcourt, pick the ball up as quick as you can, I don’t care who it is. Maybe use the shooter to shadow Winston. Whatever. We even have pressed them sometimes.”

“This will be a key for them against Texas Tech. Their defense does not let you reverse the ball. They take away ball-screens, they push your offense out. Tom is going to have to play higher and wider. Michigan State wants to play in the middle of the floor and Texas Tech makes you play on a side, so the more Michigan State can beat them down the floor – reverse the ball quick, hit a couple drag screens, early actions – then you can beat them.”

REBOUNDING

“You have to be as physical as possible with their bigs. You cannot get pushed around inside. [Nick] Ward and [Xavier] Tillman are huge.”

“They are going to go hard after the offensive glass. They kicked LSU’s ass on the boards. [Aaron] Henry gets there. [Kenny] Goins, too. And you have to be careful sending too many to the offensive glass. They’ll run it on you.”

(Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

THEY’LL LET YOU RUN YOUR STUFF, BUT THEY CAN REALLY GUARD

What Michigan State does defensively is similar to what Virginia tries to do. Where Texas Tech and Auburn are going to get out and pressure, try to take you out of what you want to run, the Spartans will let you run your offense. But they’re not giving up space in the paint, they’re contesting everything and they’re off to the races once they get the rebound.

“They’re a really good defense, but they’re not going to pressure or deny. You are going to get the ball where you want to. You won’t get it into the paint, but we never felt like we couldn’t run our stuff against them.”

“Their positioning off the ball is so good. They let you reverse it, they don’t disrupt you that way. You’ll feel like you can swing it. But they challenge everything in the paint. Watch when they play when guys drive in the lane or get an offensive rebound just how many Michgian State players are making a play on the ball. It’s more than anyone.”

“Their defensive spacing is really, really good. Well-coached. It’s difficult to get a clean look. They’re a great pack defense and a great screen and roll defense. That actually plays into Texas Tech’s hands a little bit, they don’t run a lot of ball-screens.”

“They’re better with Tillman than Ward. Their guys – [Matt McQuaid, Kenny Goins, Winston] – aren’t elite athletes by they can guard.”

Miller scores 23, No. 10 Maryland tops No. 13 Michigan 72-64

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Diamond Miller scored 23 points, and No. 10 Maryland closed the first quarter with a 13-2 run and led the rest of the way in a 72-64 victory over No. 13 Michigan on Thursday night.

Abby Meyers contributed 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Terrapins (17-4, 8-2), who won for the 10th time in 11 games. Lavender Briggs scored 14 points and Shyanne Sellers added 13.

Maryland gained a measure of revenge after losing twice to Michigan last season – including a 20-point rout in College Park.

Leigha Brown led the Wolverines with 16 points.

Michigan (16-5, 6-4) led 13-9 in the first quarter before a three-point play by Miller started Maryland’s big run. Briggs and Faith Masonius made 3-pointers during that stretch.

The Terps pushed the lead to 16 in the third quarter before the Wolverines were able to chip away. Miller sat for a bit with four fouls, and Michigan cut the lead to seven in the fourth quarter, but the Wolverines still wasted too many possessions with turnovers to mount much of a comeback.

Michigan ended up with 24 turnovers, and Maryland had a 25-5 advantage in points off turnovers.

Miller fouled out with 2:19 remaining, but even after those two free throws, the Terps led 65-57 and had little trouble holding on.

Michigan lost for the second time in four days against a top-10 opponent. No. 6 Indiana beat the Wolverines 92-83 on Monday.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan: Whether it was against Maryland’s press or in their half-court offense, the Wolverines turned the ball over too much to score consistently. This was a lower-scoring game than the loss to Indiana, but the margin ended up being similar.

Maryland: While Miller clearly led the way, the Terps had plenty of offensive contributors. They also held Michigan to 13 points below its season average entering the game.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Wolverines have appeared in 48 straight AP polls, and although a two-loss week could certainly drop them, the quality of their opponents could save them from a substantial plunge.

Maryland is tied for 10th with an Iowa team that beat No. 2 Ohio State on Monday night. Now the Terps can boast an impressive victory of their own.

UP NEXT

Michigan: The Wolverines play their third game of the week when they visit Minnesota on Sunday.

Maryland: The Terps host Penn State on Monday night.

 

Boum, Jones lead No. 13 Xavier over No. 19 UConn, 82-79

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STORRS, Conn. – Souley Boum scored 21 points, Colby Jones added 20 and No. 13 Xavier went on the road and held off No. 19 Connecticut 82-79 Wednesday night.

The win was the 13th in 14 games for the Musketeers (17-4, 9-1 Big East) and it gave them a season sweep over the struggling Huskies (16-6, 5-6).

Jack Nunge had 12 points and Jerome Hunter added 11 for Xavier, which led by 17 in the first half and 39-24 at halftime.

Jordan Hawkins scored 26 of his 28 points in the second half for UConn, leading a comeback that fell just short.

Tristen Newton added 23 points for the Huskies, who won their first 14 games this season but have dropped six of eight since.

The Musketeers never trailed but had to withstand UConn runs that cut the lead to a single point four times in the second half.

A three-point play from Hawkins made it 78-77 with 2:40 left. But a second-chance layup from Nunge put the lead at 80-77 just over a minute later.

Newton was fouled with two seconds left by Desmond Claude, but his apparent attempt to miss his second free throw went into the basket.

Boum then hit two free throws at the other end, and Newton’s final attempt from just beyond halfcourt was well short.

Xavier jumped out to a 9-0 lead as UConn missed its first nine shots.

A 3-pointer from Zach Freemantle gave the Musketeers their first double-digit lead at 20-9, and another from Jones pushed it to 35-18.

BIG PICTURE

Xavier: The Musketeers lead the Big East, and the win over UConn was their ninth conference victory this season, eclipsing their total from last season.

UConn: The Huskies came in with a 17-game winning streak at Gampel Pavilion dating to February 2021. They fell to 1-4 against the four teams in front of them in the Big East standings. The lone win came at Gampel against Creighton.

UP NEXT

Xavier: The Musketeers continue their road trip with a visit to Creighton on Saturday.

UConn: Doesn’t play again until next Tuesday, when the Huskies visit DePaul.

No. 12 Iowa State holds on to beat No. 5 Kansas State 80-76

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AMES, Iowa – Jaren Holmes matched his season high with 23 points as No. 12 Iowa State held on to beat No. 5 Kansas State 80-76 on Tuesday night.

The Cyclones (15-4, 6-2 Big 12) moved into a three-way tie atop the conference standings with the Wildcats and Texas.

Gabe Kalscheur added 19 points for Iowa State. Osun Osunniyi finished with 16.

Markquis Nowell led Kansas State (17-3, 6-2) with 23 points.

A 3-pointer from Holmes gave Iowa State a 59-49 advantage with 8:12 remaining. Kansas State responded with a 10-1 run to trim the margin to 60-59.

Caleb Grill’s 3-pointer steadied the Cyclones and pushed the lead back to 63-59 with five minutes left.

Free throws by Osunniyi, Grill and Holmes sealed the victory in the final 24 seconds.

The first half featured eight lead changes and ended with Kansas State up 33-31.

A 3-pointer by Kalscheur ignited an early 9-0 run for the Cyclones and helped them build a 19-14 lead. Iowa State made just one of nine 3-point tries in the first 20 minutes.

BIG PICTURE

Kansas State was trying to extend its best start to a season since 1961-62.

Iowa State improved to 11-0 at home. The Cyclones have not lost back-to-back games this season.

UP NEXT

Kansas State hosts Florida on Saturday as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

Iowa State travels to Missouri on Saturday.

Georgetown snaps 29-game conference losing streak

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WASHINGTON – Primo Spears scored 21 points and Georgetown snapped a 29-game conference losing streak with an 81-76 victory over DePaul on Tuesday night.

Georgetown (6-15, 1-9) won its first Big East game since March 13, 2021, ending the longest skid in the history of the conference. The Hoyas also ended a 10-game losing streak this season.

Spears also contributed six assists for the Hoyas. Akok Akok scored 12 points and added six rebounds and four blocks and Brandon Murray recorded 12 points.

Umoja Gibson led the Blue Demons (9-12, 3-7) in scoring, finishing with 24 points, four assists and three steals. Javan Johnson added 13 points.

Spears scored nine points in the first half and Georgetown went into the break trailing 37-36. Georgetown used a 10-0 run in the second half to build a 12-point lead at 75-63 with 1:39 remaining.

Nance scores 21 as North Carolina survives Syracuse, 72-68

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Pete Nance scored 21 points, capped by a dunk with 19 seconds left that put North Carolina in front for good as the Tar Heels pulled out a hard-fought, 72-68 battle with Syracuse on Tuesday night.

Joe Girard hit from beyond the arc to put Syracuse up, 68-66 with 1:28 left, but after Nance hit the first of two free throws to get North Carolina within one, he missed the second free throw and in the scramble to gather in the rebound, the ball caromed toward the end line and Girard dove to save it. Instead, he flicked the ball right to Nance, who dunked for the lead.

Judah Mintz tried to drive the lane for a go-ahead layup but was called for an offensive foul that was upgraded to a flagrant foul. North Carolina took possession and Caleb Love converted three straight free throws to put the game away.

Armando Bacot scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds with four assists for North Carolina (15-6, 7-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Love finished with 15 points and five assists.

Girard hit 4 of 9 from beyond the arc and finished with 18 points to lead Syracuse (13-8, 6-4). Mintz scored 17 points and had three steals and Chris Bell hit 3 of 5 from deep and finished with 15 points.

North Carolina has a week off before playing host to Pitt on Feb. 1. Syracuse plays at Virginia Tech on Saturday.