The No. 3 Seeded Oklahoma Sooners advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009 with wins over the Albany Great Danes and the Dayton Flyers. Looking to claim the Regional Championship, a tough road lies ahead. On the other side of the Sweet 16 pod sits a well coached No. 7 Seeded Michigan State Spartans squad. With the game set to tipoff at 9:07 CST on March 27th, Joe Tuohey of SBNation's The Only Colors sat down with us to preview the match-up.
CCM - Regardless of talent compared to years past, would you say this Michigan St. squad appears underseeded in the NCAA Tournament?
JT - That's a good question. In late January, we weren't sure that this MSU team would be making the tournament at all, so arguing for a higher seed feels a bit greedy. But considering the teams on the six-seed line, yes.
Even a six-seed would probably underrate how MSU has been playing recently. During the Big Ten Tournament, this MSU team beat Ohio State (eventual 10-seed), Maryland (#8 in the country at the time) and were a late turnover away from beating Wisconsin (1-seed and #6 in the country). After tournament wins against Georgia and Virginia, it's clear this team is playing well above its seed.
CCM - Neither team possesses a significant size advantage yet both like to run and gun. While this match-up pits strength against strength, will the rebound margin decide this Sweet Sixteen pairing?
JT - Over at The Only Colors we're big fans of rebounding percentage stats instead of rebounding margin stats. I won't go on about it, but rebounding margin can be misleading due to shot volume.
MSU is typically a strong team nationally in terms of both rebounding margin and rebounding percentages, but this MSU has been out-rebounded in both tournament games thus far. There have been some theories postulated about the reasons for this (including ratcheted-up defensive intensity) but Tom Izzo also noted it as an area of concern for him. Personally, I think MSU will get back to dominance on the boards (we're #24 in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage vs. OU's #162 rank in offensive rebounding percentage).
The real question will be which team best prevents their opponent from getting looks in transition, as both look to push tempo offensively.
CCM - The Spartans move the ball exceptionally well to the tune of 17.1 assists per game which ranks 4th nationally and shoot 47.1% from the floor. Defense comes first however, springing MSU into transition. What weaknesses exist that Oklahoma can exploit?
JT - The free throw line has caused some serious agony for MSU fans over the course of the year, on both ends of the floor. Offensively, MSU struggles to get to the line in the first place (277th nationally in free throw rate) and when we do, the shooting percentage is a ghastly 63.0 percent, good for 339th in the country. MSU has been prone to giving up big leads at the end of games when opponents foul to extend the game. It hurts.
Defensively, bigs Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling foul a lot. And though the guards are less foul-prone, there's a major drop-off in the rotation after Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine. MSU was able to survive some Valentine foul trouble against Virginia, but it required a rejiggering of the rotations and that could spell doom against OU.
CCM - Most college basketball fans have become familiar with the name Travis Trice over the years. Who else can we expect to have an impact on the outcome of the game?
JT - First of all, it's amazing that basketball fans are familiar with Travis Trice. He was a lightly-recruited afterthought who has become an incredible offensive weapon. But anyways, I digress.
Foremost, Denzel Valentine will have a huge impact on the game. He does a little bit of everything, including passing, rebounding, and shooting (41.8% from three). Valentine will sometimes create bad turnovers, including the aforementioned one that cost MSU the Big Ten Tournament Championship. But he's a fun and hugely impactful player.
Second, Branden Dawson is a terrific defender and rebounder. He plays much larger than his 6'6 height would suggest, mainly because of his strength and leaping ability. If he gets an opportunity for a dunk, watch out. When Dawson is fully tuned-in, he's also a monster on the offensive glass and with putbacks.
CCM - Give us your score prediction.
JT - I think this game is going to be really fun and fast-paced as both teams look to get into transition quickly. The difference will be that when the game settles into half-court sets, MSU will force OU to take too many difficult shots. Still, I anticipate a very close affair:
MSU 76, OU 74
Make sure you join us tomorrow night in the game thread as we pull for the Sooners over the Spartans!