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There are numerous teams this year that have the potential to make it to the Final Four in what should be an exciting as usual NCAA Tournament. We will go over some of the favorites to cut down the nets at the end, now with Michigan State.
Team: Michigan State Spartans
Coach: Tom Izzo
Conference: Big Ten
First Opponent: Bradley
KenPom Offensive Efficiency Rating: 4th
KenPom Defensive Efficiency Rating: 9th
Why Michigan State Can Win It All: Tom Izzo has done nothing short of a masterful job navigating his Spartan squad through a very turbulent season. Michigan State was a pre-season top-15 team that was dealt an early and thought to be debilitating blow when junior guard Joshua Langford injured his ankle that would sideline him for the year. The Spartans rallied after Langford’s injury, winning 13 games in a row. However, the end of the Spartans winning streak turned into an ugly three game losing streak, highlighted be an upset at Illinois. Coach Izzo did not let his team fold, and ended the regular season on a 7-1 run. Junior point guard Cassius Winston kept his teammates together on the court by delivering his best season yet and will likely finish as the Big Ten player of the year. By necessity, Winston had to facilitate the Spartans offense to an even greater degree after Joshua Langford’s injury. Izzo played his star point guard almost every minute of each game. Winston closed the regular season finishing in the top-three in assist rate and being the engine behind the Spartans finishing first in assists per field goals made. Michigan State’s offense keeps the ball moving since their roster is not as skilled in one-on-one playmaking. The Spartans ball-movement attack has done a terrific job of getting players in great spots to execute in their half-court offense. Senior sharpshooters Kenny Goins and Matt McQuaid have been expertly utilized to space along the perimeter and wait for an open look for three-point attempts. Junior Nick Ward remains one of the nations toughest players to defend as he constantly draws fouls from his physical low-post play. The Spartans have true inside-outside threats and their offensive attack is highlighted by their point guard’s ability to set-up his teammates with great scoring opportunities. This year’s Spartans defense is in line with what is expected from a Coach Izzo disciplined defense. Michigan State’s forwards have used their physicality to finish in the top-10 in 2PT% defense and rank in the top-15 in block percentage. Opposing offenses are having an extremely difficult time getting quality looks at the rim and getting to the free-throw line. The Spartans are not a flashy team and will often now “wow” you with their play, however, Michigan State plays with a controlled intensity and team-oriented approach that makes them extremely difficult to play against, along with having a Hall of Fame coach that knows what it takes to advance come March Madness.
Why Michigan State Won’t Win It All: This years Spartans are absolutely a yeoman like team that can grind their way to a Final 4. However, NCAA Tournament has shown how infrequent it is for “blue-collar” teams to be national champions. Michigan State has not shown consistently that one of their players can take over a game. Cassius Winston is certainly capable and has the ability to take over a game, but can he do it in March? Furthermore, the Spartans have struggled when Winston is pressured for a full 40 minutes and State will have an extremely difficult time advancing if their leader has an off-game let alone a bad half of basketball. The Spartans also do not create turnovers, and finished the regular season in the bottom thirty of turnover rate. Possessions are magnified in the tournament and most games slow down, which could cause trouble for the Spartans if they are not in a good flow offensively and can’t create separation due to a lack of forcing turnovers. Another worry is how foul prone Nick Ward can be. Ward is an extremely talented player but his physical play consistently places him in foul trouble. The Spartans cannot afford Ward to be on the bench if their opponent has a formidable post presence. The Spartans likely have the slimmest margin for error out of every championship contender. Coach Izzo will have to ensure that his players do not beat themselves since they lack the playmaking and individual talent that almost every other championship contender possesses.
By Evan Kurland