Michigan State gave the top ranked defense in the country a brutal taste of their own medicine. In a game that was labeled a battle between two number one seeds in terms of talent the Spartans continued to prove the experts right in picking MSU to advance yet again in the gauntlet that is the NCAA tournament. The Virginia Cavaliers (30-7, 16-2) showed time and again the type of defensive presence that allowed them to capture both the regular season and tournament ACC title.
The Spartans started hot from their first possession. With the shot clock winding down, and Cavalier fans praising the defensive effort from their team, Denzel Valentine nailed a deep three pointer from the top of the key to set the tone for the Spartans early. Eventually, Michigan State built the lead up to ten before Virginia went on a run of their own to cut the deficit to four at the half. After overcoming a horrible start to the second half in which the Spartans scored just seven points in the first 11:23, Michigan State turned to upperclassmen Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson to help the Spartans advance to the Elite 8 for the eighth time since 1999.
Two things that stood out in this game was the continued dominance by Dawson who, since returning from his broken hand, has been nothing short of spectacular. Dawson followed up his 26 point 9 rebound performance against Harvard in their third round matchup with 24 points and 10 rebounds, both game highs. The second thing that stood out was how the Spartans outplayed Virginia at their own game. Coming into the NCAA Tournament the Cavaliers boasted the nation's best scoring defense allowing only 55.1 points per game to opponents. Tom Izzo's club reminded the country his team can play a little D themselves. The Spartans held the Cavaliers to just 35% shooting for the game and forced Virginia's only real star, Joe Harris, to earn every one of his 17 points.
Looking ahead to Sunday, Michigan State will face a hot Connecticut team that boasts a backcourt of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright that remind college hoops fans of the Kemba Walker-Jeremy Lamb backcourt that led UCONN to the title in 2010. However, this MSU program is 6-1 under Tom Izzo in their last seven regional final games and with these seniors one win away from what would be their first final four since arriving in East Lansing, expect them to play well. Survive and advance, that's the name of the game in March and on Friday night Michigan State was able to pull it out and earned the right to play another day.