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What We Learned: #9 Michigan State Spartans 78, #8 Miami Hurricanes 58

After an atrocious start, the Spartans dominated the Hurricanes in convincing fashion.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Michigan State vs Miami Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Hurricanes swarmed the Michigan State Spartans, generating turnovers and attacking the rim in transition. They came out swinging, and fed off swagger inducing dunks as their lead swelled.

For 9 minutes.

Ultimately, Michigan State trounced the Hurricanes, 78-58 in their opening round matchup. Following the early train wreck, something clicked inside the Spartans. Clicked may be the wrong term, though. It was more so beat across their heads by coach Tom Izzo.

Stop. The. Turnovers.

After giving up 10 points on five turnovers, mostly ending in open court lay ins, Michigan State decided to protect the basketball. More than just ball protection, the Spartans began intelligently passing to create easy buckets. Michigan State finished with 18 assists, contributing to a stellar 56% shooting from the floor.

Once Michigan State grabbed the lead, the pedal was slammed so hard it broke off. Anytime Miami could generate some positivity, there were the Spartans, dazzling with a flashy pass, stroking a three, or finishing at the rim with acrobatics.

Surprising no one by now, Miles Bridges and Nick Ward were once again fantastic. Ward finished with 19 points and 7 rebounds while missing just one shot. His left hook from his right shoulder continues to get Michigan State baskets on demand. Bridges did normal Bridges things, finishing with 18 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists. He hit two threes, attacked the rim and displayed his incredible defensive motor.

What We Learned:

1. This Michigan State Squad Has Grit.

The start of this game was ugly for the Spartans. It all started with Nick Ward picking up quite possibly the earliest foul in basketball history. A quick 7-0 lead for Miami turned into a 19-8 lead, and the outlook was bleak. The Hurricane fans picked up and the players were amped, stealing nearly every pass and punishing the rim. As young as Michigan State is, the game could’ve ended right there.

But it didn’t.

Nick Ward jump started the early comeback, pulling in 2 huge offensive rebounds and scoring 8 points during an 11 minute, 30-8 Michigan State run to end the first half. It was never close after that. With four freshmen playing contributing big minutes, that sort of confidence boost will be the key factor for a Spartan tournament run.

2. When Things are Clicking, the Spartans’ Offense is Dynamic.

Shooting 6-20 certainly isn’t great, but the timing of the six can be make big difference. Michigan State did just that, knocking down three shots behind the arc during their run, and two later to keep the Hurricane despair level high. Bridges scored 6 of his 18 points from deep, and Joshua Langford matched, also chipping in 6 from three to add to his 13 total.

Bridges truly showcased the full range of his skills. He scored from the block, attacking the rim on drives and extended his range when the defense backed off. As Langford, Matt McQuaid and Alvin Ellis III spaced out the defense with their threatening three-point ability, Bridges closed the gap between the three-point line and Ward on the interior.

Ward was a machine in the paint. He finished 8 for 9 shooting, and Miami simply did not have an answer for him. They switched between both zone and man defensively, and Ward showed no signs of being bothered by either.

3. Kansas Will be Significantly Tougher Than Miami.

As impressive as Michigan State’s comeback and eventual Miami beat down was, the Hurricanes really had no excuse to lose their lead or massive momentum. They made little adjustments, showed no discipline offensively and lost all heart as they lead disappeared. Make no mistake, if the Spartans have the same type of start against the Kansas Jayhawks as they did the Hurricanes, there will be no coming back.

Kansas has not one, but two Nation Player of the Year candidates in Frank Mason III and Josh Jackson. The Jayhawks finished with a better record than the Spartans, despite playing a tougher schedule. They also rely far less heavily on freshmen than Michigan State. For the Spartans to see the next round, they will need to play at the level of their 30-8 run against Miami for the duration of the game.

Overall

Michigan State will now move on to Kansas on Sunday. Expect a competitive game between the two teams.