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NCAA Tournament Preview: #9 Michigan State vs. #8 Miami (FL)

Michigan State will have its hands full against Miami’s stingy defense.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The Spartans of Michigan State are back in a familiar place — the NCAA Tournament. However, this year they enter the big dance as an underdog looking to create a little magic in March.

Michigan State will start that possible magical run on Friday against the Miami Hurricanes in the 8-9 seed matchup of the first round in the Midwest Region. This will be the first ever meeting between the Spartans and Hurricanes in the NCAA Tournament. The two teams look similar on paper and it should be a fun matchup to watch.

I actually like this matchup for Michigan State quite a bit if they can execute in a few key areas. So let’s take a look at how this one can unfold down in Tulsa, Okla. on Friday.

#9 Michigan State vs. #8 Miami (FL)

  • Time/TV: 9:20 PM ET - TNT
  • Spread: Miami (-2)

1. Can Michigan State be efficient on offense?

When Michigan State is rolling on offense they are one of the best teams in the country. The only issue is that isn’t always the case. And it’ll be even harder to get that offense rolling against one of the country’s best defensive teams.

Miami gave up only 63.7 points per game, which ranks second in the ACC and 24th nationally. The Hurricanes also held their opponents to only 41.4% shooting from the field, which ranks 5th in the ACC and 53rd nationally. That strong defense led to key wins over North Carolina, Duke and Virginia during the regular season.

With the Hurricanes being so stingy on defense that means Michigan State must do two things on the offensive end — not turn the ball over and hit their open looks when they’re there. As I wrote earlier this week, if Michigan State can keep itself to 10 turnovers or less, and hit their open shots then I like their chances in this one. If they don’t do either of those things then they aren’t going to have much success.

2. Will the Spartans consistently feed Ward in the post?

Teams with size have been the achilles heel of Michigan State all season with the Spartans lacking size in the post. However, Miami is in the same boat when it comes to not having a dominant post game, and thus Michigan State has an advantage down low.

Miami generally starts four guards and only one forward — 6-foot-8 senior Kamari Murphy. Like the rest of the team, Murphy plays solid defense down low but isn’t huge and doesn’t offer much offensively — 7.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. This creates a favorable matchup for Spartans freshman forward Nick Ward.

Ward enters the NCAA Tournament averaging 13.7 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per game. His game has steadily improved across the season and he’s become one of the Spartans’ go-to scorers. He finished the season averaging 17.5 points and 10 rebounds per game across the final six games.

Ward will be key in this one. I can see him having a lot of success against Murphy — if he stays out of foul trouble — and if he does then Michigan State doesn’t need to rely so much on its shooting from the perimeter.

3. Will Miles Bridges be a star in the tourney?

Michigan State freshman phenom Miles Bridges has been a human highlight reel all season long and everyone knows that across Big Ten country. But I’m not so sure that’s the case nationwide with the Spartans being average at best this year.

So here you go kid, the spotlight is on you Mr. Bridges. He averaged 16.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2 assists per game throughout the season. He’ll need to at least match those numbers, if not exceed, for the Spartans to have any chance at a deep run in March. I like this opening matchup for Bridges since Miami doesn’t have your typical four-man just like Michigan State. Bridges has had to play the four most of the year and normally is going up against a much bigger opponent. That won’t be the case on Friday.

There’s a good chance Bridges will only get one crack in the NCAA Tournament — he’s projected by most as a lottery pick in this year’s NBA Draft — so let’s see if he’ll make the most out of his opportunity. Michigan State surely will need that to happen if they want to get past Miami and continue on in the tournament.

Overall

As I stated in the opening, I like this matchup for Michigan State. I like it a lot for a number of different reasons. Miami doesn’t have a lot of size and isn’t a great offensive team, Michigan State has an advantage in the post with Ward, and the Spartans have the best player on the floor in Bridges.

But Miami does play great defense and if Michigan State doesn’t convert on their open looks then they won’t win. The Spartans went cold from deep in their last game so there’s certainly a chance it’ll happen again on Friday. I’m a glass half-full kind of guy so I’m banking on them to hit those open looks this time around. Move Michigan State on to the second round.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Michigan State (+2)