Higher-Seeded Michigan St. Favored Vs. Oklahoma In Sweet 16
It’s March so that means Michigan State is playing its best basketball of the season for coach Tom Izzo, one of the great NCAA Tournament coaches ever. The Spartans are the No. 7 seed in the East Region but are 2.5-point Bovada favorites for Friday night’s game in Syracuse against No. 3 Oklahoma.
Sparty Likes Playing UVA
The Spartans upset No. 2 seed Virginia in the Round of 32. It’s not easy to beat Virginia at its own defensive, grinding game but that’s what Izzo’s group did. The Spartans, with 23 points from senior guard Travis Trice, knocked off the Cavaliers, 60-54 in Charlotte on Sunday. It’s the second straight year Izzo’s group has ended Virginia’s season. After losing three seniors from last year’s Final Eight team, this was not a vintage Izzo team in December (lost to Texas Southern) or really January (lost to Nebraska), but it’s March and the Spartans are playing their best.
The Sooners handled Albany, 69-60 in the opener, and the punched out a difficult Dayton team, 72-66 in the Round of 32 in what was basically a road game (in Columbus, Ohio). The Sooners are a tough defensive team (sixth in Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings) that can rebound (top 25 in the country), and they have a volume scorer (junior guard Buddy Hield).
Michigan State made it to the Sweet 16 by beating a Virginia team that plays the slowest tempo of any team in major college basketball. To make it past Oklahoma and into the Elite Eight, Izzo is expecting a challenge of an entirely different sort.
“Run, run, run, run, run, man,” Izzo said when asked what he expects from the Sooners. “I think we could have a test run for the 20-second shot clock in this game. It will be just the reverse opposite of what we just went through.”
OU Plays Fast
The average length of an Oklahoma offensive possession is 18.5 seconds, according to KenPom. That’s the second-shortest of any of the 16 teams left in the tournament. For Michigan State’s veterans, the pace should be familiar. The Spartans and Sooners played last year season in a November matchup, and forward Branden Dawson said the team watched the tape of that game this week.
Hield, the Big 12 player of the year, averages 17.3 points per game. Guard Isaiah Cousins is also a double-digit scorer at 11.9 points per game. Oklahoma also starts a pair of forwards who are 6-foot-8, 235 pounds or bigger. But Izzo said those two — Ryan Spangler and TaShawn Thomas — aren’t as physically imposing as the frontcourts Michigan State faced last weekend, particularly Virginia’s.
The Spartans are known for their defense, but a closer look at the statistics shows that Oklahoma has a better field goal percentage defense (38.6 percent) than does Michigan State (39.5 percent). The Sooners ranked No. 1 in the Big 12 in scoring margin (plus-9.1 points), No. 2 in field goal percentage defense (38.6 percent) and No. 3 in blocked shots (five per game) and turnover margin (plus-1.5).
MSU held Georgia and Virginia to a .316 field-goal percentage, ranking second in the tournament behind only Kentucky (.303), and is holding opponents to .194 shooting from behind the arc, ranking third in the tournament and first among teams to play two games. As a team, MSU’s 5.0 blocks rank tied for seventh, led by Dawson’s 3.0 blocks per game, ranking tied for fifth and tied for third among players to play in two games. MSU has held its last four NCAA Tournament opponents below 40 percent shooting.
MSU is the 8/5 favorite to win the East Region and Oklahoma 13/5.
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