Don't let Virginia's two losses in the month of March fool you. This team is still a force to be reckoned with and is very much a threat to win the entire NCAA Tournament. The Cavaliers remain efficient on offense thanks to leading scorer Malcolm Brogdon and the efficient post play of Anthony Gill.
Making life even more difficult for Michigan State will be the re-emergence of Justin Anderson, who is shooting a lethal 47 percent from beyond the arc this season but missed most of February and early March with a broken left pinky finger. Head coach Tony Bennett began easing Anderson back into the rotation during the ACC Tournament, but he didn't really start to turn his game back on until he scored 15 points against Belmont on Friday.
In other words, Anderson is growing stronger by the day and could be very close to full strength when Virginia faces off against Michigan State in a rematch of last season's East Regional semifinal.
Branden Dawson scored 24 points with 10 rebounds in that game, which is good news for the Spartans, because three of the other players they started during that game have either graduated or been drafted into the NBA. With Virginia rolling out another long and talented defensive squad, it's going to be tough for Dawson to replicate the figures he posted in the 2014 Spartan victory, but fortunately he's not Michigan State's only option.
It will be up to Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine to stretch out the Wahoo defense as best they can in order to open up the interior for Dawson. That won't be easy considering the length of Virginia's perimeter defenders, but scoring on Tony Bennett's team is going to be tough no matter what you try. After all, this is a team that held six of its final nine ACC regular season opponents under 50 points.
On the other hand, Virginia has looked a lot more vulnerable in the very recent past. North Carolina managed to shoot 7-for-14 from three-point range in its ACC Tournament final victory over the Wahoos. On Friday, Belmont made Virginia uncomfortable by dropping in several jumpers from well beyond the arc.
The need for extra three-point shooting in this game puts added importance on Bryn Forbes. The transfer student from Cleveland State was a non-factor for much of March but lately re-discovered his shot with 10 points against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament final and then 14 in Thursday's win over Georgia. A lineup featuring Forbes instead of freshman point guard Tum Tum Nairn would allow Tom Izzo to pack the floor with more shooting skill and attack Virginia from the perimeter.
Michigan State has shown in recent games that it is equipped with the tools necessary to compete with the best teams in the nation. The question now is whether or not the Spartans' best players can come through when it matters. A victory against ACC heavyweight Virginia would more than make up for a regular season in which big, meaningful wins were few and far between.