NCAA Tournament Preview: Michigan State vs. Delaware - Will the Underseeded Spartans Start Strong?

Lookin' good, Gary - Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Everybody, including the leader of the free world, seems to be picking the Spartans to make a deep run. How will they fare in their debut against the Blue Hens?

By the Numbers:

Michigan State Team Delaware
26-8 Record 25-9
B1G Conference CAA
12-6 Conf. Record 14-2
4 Seed 13
18 RPI 68
10 KenPom 103

March 20, 2014 - Spokane Arena, Spokane, WA

4:40 PM ET - TNT

The Skinny:

Here we go again. We've all heard ad nauseum that Tom Izzo-coached teams always go to the Final Four. This year, it doesn't look much different. Even though the Spartans upset Michigan in the Big Ten Championship in a pretty dominant victory, they were given a mere #4 seed in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament. After suffering through injuries the whole season, Michigan State is finally at full strength. Major contributors Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson missed significant portions of the regular season, but are back and ready to go. Both of those players excelled in the B1G title game, proving that MSU is ready to make a run through what looks like a very winnable region.

The Delaware Blue Hens are in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999 after narrowly passing by William & Mary in the CAA title game. The Blue Hens are coached by Monte' Ross, who is carrying on the rich tradition of great basketball coaches from Philadelphia. He was an assistant at St. Joseph's during their 2004 run with Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, so he understands guards and how to utilize guards effectively. Luckily for him, he's got two excellent guards in Jarvis Threatt and Devon Sadler to create offense and keep their team moving. Both of those guards excel in not turning the ball over, as Delaware is 4th in the country in turnover percentage at 13.5% a game. That will be key as they face off against this tough B1G-tested defense. If you want a further look into Delaware's path to the tourney, check out this video right here from SB Nation's Chasing Cinderella series:

Projected Starting Lineups:

Michigan State Position Delaware
Keith Appling G Jarvis Threatt
Gary Harris G Devon Sadler
Denzel Valentine G/F Kyle Anderson
Branden Dawson F Davon Usher
Adreian Payne C Carl Baptiste

Players to Watch:

Keith Appling: This will be the senior's last chance to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, and you know he'll make it count. But Michigan State hasn't been to a Final Four with Appling on board. You can read here about Tom Izzo's famous recruiting guarantee that Spartan players who stay for all four years will play in a Final Four. That means a whole lot of pressure will be placed on Appling, as well as his senior buddy Adreian Payne, to keep that streak alive. Not only does Appling have to handle that external pressure, he'll face plenty of on-court pressure. Jarvis Threatt was one of the best perimeter defenders in the CAA, and will do his best to force Appling into tough situations. However, Appling certainly has the poise and experience to handle it.

Adreian Payne: The other senior on MSU will be called upon to dominate on the boards. Delaware doesn't have a lot of height, but their center, Carl Baptiste, is beefy - he's 6'9", 260 lbs. So that's what Payne will have to deal with underneath the basket. But as a team, Delaware struggles with rebounding. Thus, if Payne can keep his opponents off the glass, just like he did against Michigan, MSU should be in good shape. It will also be interesting to see how MSU uses Payne's ability to shoot from three. Delaware can defend the 3 pretty well, but Payne will be needed inside. Tom Izzo will have to figure out that coaching chess match.

Devon Saddler: Saddler can put the ball in the basket - it's as simple as that. He's averaging 19.7 points a game this season, and is actually second in the country in all-time scoring with 1,670 points, only trailing Doug McDermott. Not only can he score, but as you saw from that video, he's the emotional leader of the team (if you didn't feel like watching the video: in the last play of the title game, he insisted they run their last play through Baptiste, when everyone expected him to take the last shot). So he's the perfect unselfish leader for a Blue Hen team with minimal March experience. Too bad he'll be squaring off against a future lottery pick in Gary Harris.

Davon Usher: It's on all the scouting reports about Delaware: U Got It Bad if you have to stop Usher. He's one of the most versatile players in the CAA, and the Delaware offense runs through him. He's always on the floor, and has the ability to do everything for the Blue Hens. Although he's only 6'6", he won't be too outmatched physically against the Spartans. His man, Branden Dawson is stronger and more talented, but won't push Usher around down low. He's been a bit inconsistent during the CAA Tournament. In their first game against Hofstra, he dropped 28 points. But in the finals, he only scored 8 points on 2-10 shooting. For Delaware to have a shot, his shot will need to fall.

Prediction:

I have a hard time seeing the Spartans dropping this game. While Delaware is a squad that has something to prove, there's a lot riding on the Spartans to make a deep run this March. Look for Saddler and Usher to get theirs, but I expect Payne to contain Baptiste down low. Appling won't go out in the first round - that's a guarantee. The Spartans will roll past Delaware, and continue towards another Final Four run.

Michigan State 75, Delaware 60.

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