Behind the white hair and outraged looks during every Michigan State basketball game is a man who knows how to coach the hell out of his team. For the second consecutive season, Tom Izzo outsmarted Tony Bennett, and his lower-seeded Michigan State Spartans were able to beat the Virginia Cavaliers. For Michigan State's next battle, they'll be pitted against Oklahoma, near the top of the Big 12 for the entire season and one of the best teams in the entire country.
The Sooners aren't the deepest team in the country by any stretch, but the players that Lon Kruger puts on the floor for Oklahoma constantly deliver results. Of their starters, four are upperclassmen, with sophomore Jordan Woodard as the only player that doesn't fall in this category. Kruger has stuck with a 9-man rotation throughout the season, with every starter hovering right around the 30 minute mark. They are led by Buddy Hield, one of the best scorers and shooters in the country. Hield averages 17 points and 5 rebounds, and his 36% 3-point shooting allows Oklahoma to space the floor extremely well. While Hield shoots a relatively high percentage, Isaiah Cousins shoots at 45% behind the arc, averaging 12 points along with 5 rebounds and 2 assists. Woodard rounds out the backcourt trio, averaging 9 points along with 4 rebounds and 4 assists.
While Oklahoma's perimeter is very solid, they have one of the best frontcourts in the country as well with TaShawn Thomas and Ryan Spangler. Thomas has a more well rounded offensive game, generally playing power forward alongside the brute force of Spangler. Both players average over 10 points and 6 boards, and a block, proving that they can contribute in all aspects of the box score.
Off the bench, Oklahoma will play gunner Frank Booker, a knockdown shooter that hit 4 huge 3's against Dayton in the Sooners last game. Khadeem Lattin and D.J. Bennett are the key contributors off the bench in the frontcourt, with both players used mainly to give rest to both Spangler and Thomas. Besides for Booker, don't expect the Oklahoma bench to explode with production.
Overall, this should be a great matchup between two teams with contrasting styles. Michigan State will likely look to slow down the tempo more, and will look to get Branden Dawson far more involved than he was against Virginia. Dawson was saddled with two fouls and didn't play more than 9 minutes in the first half, while Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling filled his role nicely.
On the perimeter, I am curious to see if Lourawls Nairn (Tum Tum!) can keep his excellent play up. Tum Tum should be a very even matchup with the Oklahoma guards, but Denzel Valentine is the one guy that has a legitimate size advantage on the perimeter. If Valentine and Travis Trice can knock down shots, and the bench can give Tom Izzo anything, Michigan State should have a pretty good chance of continuing on their run in March.