NCAA Tournament Preview: Michigan State vs UConn

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Spartans look to stop Napier and the Huskies and continue their run to the Final Four.

By the Numbers:

Connecticut

Team

Michigan State

29-8 (12-6 AAC)

Record

29-8 (12-6 B1G)

7

Seed

4

23

RPI

18

23

BPI

8

19

KenPom

8

16

Sagarin

5

March 30, 2014 - Madison Square Garden, New York, New York

2:20 PM EST - CBS

Skinny:

Michigan State will look to make it two B1G teams in the Final Four this afternoon against a resilient UConn team looking to represent the newly formed AAC. The Huskies are only three years removed from their 2011 National Championship, with three players from that team still on the current roster, but no coach Jim Calhoun. Current head coach Kevin Ollie is making his first ever post-season appearance after academic sanctions held his team out last year. His team's path to the Elite Eight has not been an easy one. It has taken an OT game against St. Joes and tough contests against former Big East foe Villanova and 3-seed Iowa State to get to this point.

Michigan State has a lot in common with their opponent. They share the same record, the same finish in their respective conferences, both start two seniors with plenty of tournament experience and both were obviously under-seeded by the committee. However, Tom Izzo's team still looks like the favorite going into the game today. After all, MSU won the B1G tournament and in the process knocked off Final Four qualifier Wisconsin and another potential Final Four team in Michigan. It seems that the oft-injured Spartans have not only healed, but also have found the chemistry that was lacking in their first few games after returning to full strength. Watching them play the last couple of games, you can sense that this team won't just be satisfied with a Final Four, they expect to win it all.

Projected Starting Lineups:

UConn

Pos.

MSU

Shabazz Napier

G

Keith Appling

Ryan Boatright

G

Gary Harris

Niels Giffey

F-G

Denzel Valentine

DeAndre Daniels

F

Branden Dawson

Phillip Nolan

C

Adreian Payne

Players to Watch:

Shabazz Napier: The inaugural AAC Player of the Year, Napier is the senior leader of the Huskies. As a freshman he backed-up Kemba Walker on the way to the 2011 NCAA Championship, since then he has improved every year. So far in this year's tournament he is averaging 22.7 points and has been putting up good numbers across the board. The Spartans can't let him take control of the game if they want to win.

Adreian Payne: Payne has been a beast in the tournament. His strong play has opened things up on offense for his teammates, like Dawson, to step up there own game. The MSU senior is a match-up nightmare for opposing coaches, not only can he bang in the post, but if he gets denied inside he can just step outside and hit a three. To top things off, Adreian has gone 24-25 from the line in the tourney.

Prediction:

The later in the tournament it gets, the harder it is to predict games, but I can't see Izzo losing before the Final Four this year. Michigan State: 68 UConn: 62

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