Like many expected, the resurgent Michigan State Spartans escaped the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament and will face the top seeded team in the East bracket, ACC champion Virginia. Though MSU advanced, the road was not an easy one. Last Saturday night, Tommy Amaker's Harvard squad battled the Spartans hard and if not for a career night by junior forward Branden Dawson (26 points, 9 rebounds) we might be discussing a drastically different matchup. With sixteen teams remaining, lets look at the road ahead of Michigan State.
Outlook: At first glance of this bracket before the tournament there were two games that I envisioned could be difficult matchups for the Spartans if they are looking to win it all. That first game was this Sweet 16 matchup against theVirginia Cavaliers, and the second was in the Final Four against top seeded Florida (still a possibility). Tony Bennett's Cavaliers won the ACC regular season AND tournament title despite adding established programs in Syracuse and Pittsburgh to an already difficult conference. This team is balanced as all five starters average at least seven points a game and they have a terrific coach in Bennett. On the other hand, Tom Izzo needs no introduction. His team's performance in March speaks for itself and it appears as if he's pressing the right buttons once again as this team has been forced to jell quickly because of the various injuries suffered throughout the year. The key for this game will be who is going to step up for MSU and put the ball in the hoop. In their second round game against Delaware, Adreian Payne shouldered the load on offense scoring 41 points and going a perfect 17-17 from the free throw line. As noted earlier, last game was Dawson with the exceptional offensive performance. One has to look at the backcourt as the key to victory for the Spartans. Keith Appling and Gary Harris have played well but not exceptional thus far. The only difference between last weekend and this is that they might have to all play exceptional to pull this one out on Friday night. Virginia boasts the number one scoring defense in the country only allowing a shade over 55 points per contest. Izzo's teams are used to the grind-it-out, ugly, defensive battles and it would appear the Big Ten has prepared the Spartans well for such a matchup.
Outlook Beyond Friday: If Michigan State does pull a victory out Friday night they will face either Iowa State or Connecticut. The Cyclones are without star big man Georges Niang, who's out with a broken foot. The Huskies are led by Shabazz Napier, the top player and leader for UCONN. Both teams figure to have serious disadvantages versus the Spartans or Cavaliers for that matter. If MSU avoids a let down coming off a big win, Izzo and his team will be headed to the Final Four.
Prediction For Friday: Michigan State 64 Virginia 62