Yes, I fully expected MSU’s blowout win over LIU-Brooklyn in the “second” round of the NCAA Tournament. Yes, I fully expected MSU to beat their third-round opponent, although I expected it to be Memphis, and not the mighty Billikens of St. Louis University. While a 65-61 final score is nothing to brag about, a win is a win. All-American G/F/C Draymond Green posted a triple-double against LIU-Brooklyn, and scored 16 points and 13 rebounds in the slim victory over St. Louis. He also dished out 6 assists, the last of which led to a go-ahead 3 by PG Keith Appling, who scored a game-high 19 points.
Awaiting the Spartans in the Sweet 16 are the 4th-seeded Louisville Cardinals. After a so-so regular season, Louisville turned it on and won the Big East conference tournament over surprise finalist Cincinnati. In this year’s NCAA Tournament, Louisville first dispatched of 12th-seeded Davidson before knocking off 5th-seeded New Mexico, 59-56.
Geeks, unite (national ranking in parentheses):
Scoring Offense: MSU – 72.4 (68), Louisville – 68.6 (160)
Scoring Defense: MSU – 59.4 (17), Louisville – 61.1 (35)
Field Goal Percentage: MSU – 48.2 (16), Louisville – 42.5 (216)
Field Goal Percentage Defense: MSU – 37.9 (2), Louisville – 37.9 (3)
Three-Point Percentage: MSU – 36.5 (67), Louisville – 31.3 (253)
Three-Point Percentage Defense: MSU – 29.6 (12), Louisville – 30.2 (21)
Rebound Margin: MSU – 8.3 (5), Louisville – 1.6 (124)
Assists Per Game: MSU – 15.4 (26), Louisville – 13.5 (113)
Assists Per Turnover Ratio: MSU – 1.19 (36), Louisville – 0.93 (188)
Scoring: MSU – Draymond Green (16.1), Louisville – Kyle Kuric (13)
Rebounding: MSU – Draymond Green (10.4), Louisville – Gorgui Dieng (9.1)
Assists: MSU – Keith Appling (3.9), Louisville – Peyton Siva (5.5)
While the St. Louis game was ugly, this one might be harder to watch. Louisville will rely on its defense, one of the nation’s stingiest, to have a solid chance to beat MSU. While Sparty is no offensive juggernaut, they have a bit more firepower on that end than the Cardinals. What UL lacks in interior size, they make up for with aggressive perimeter defense, led by PG Peyton Siva. Not only will Siva have to dictate the flow when the Cardinals have the ball, but when they’re defending as well. Expect UL head coach Rick Pitino to press MSU early and often, especially since the closest thing to a glaring weakness that MSU has is a tendency to turn the ball over too much. This will certainly be the case if Appling forgets his role and tries to do too much, too early. In fact, Appling/Siva should be one of the more entertaining matchups in the NCAA Tournament thus far.
I assume if UL big Gorgui Dieng can stay out of foul trouble, he’ll assist in making things hard for Sparty once they enter the lane. Not only is he the Cardinals’ leading rebounder, but leading shot-blocker, averaging 3.1 blocks per game. MSU will have to find a way to get Dieng to play tentative…which would mean enticing him into foul trouble. From the looks of Dieng’s numbers, that may not be such a tall task.
Even without injured freshman guard Branden Dawson, I like Sparty’s chances. Besides Dieng, UL’s only real size is freshman forward, Chanel Behanan, who checks in at 6’6″, 250, rather undersized for someone who bangs down low a lot. I can’t envision MSU bigs Adrian Payne and Derrick Nix not being able to impose their will on both ends, especially on the glass. Even worse for Louisville, Green, and neither Nix or Payne, will undoubtedly do the most damage down low, especially when passing to cutters and open shooters.
Louisville’s defense is certainly elite, but its offense isn’t quite as talented and well-rounded as MSU’s, especially on the low block. Chalk up another Elite Eight appearance for ol’ Sparty.