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NCAA Tournament Preview: No. 3 Michigan State Spartans vs. No. 11 Syracuse Orange

Two of the game’s most successful coaches will battle it out for a trip to the Sweet 16 this afternoon.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round: Bucknell Bison vs Michigan State Spartans Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Izzo vs. Jim Boeheim. Michigan State vs. Syracuse. Who will dance on to the Sweet 16?

Sunday’s second game of the day will feature two of college basketball’s blue bloods as the Michigan State Spartans will battle it out against the Syracuse Orange for a trip to the Sweet 16. Today’s game will tip at 2:40 p.m. from Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, with another Spartan heavy crowd expected to be in the building.

Both of these teams find themselves in this second round matchup after narrow victories on Friday night. Michigan State used a big second half to get by Bucknell, and Syracuse earned their second single-digit win of the week by knocking off TCU in the first round.

Syracuse was one of the last team’s to get into the NCAA Tournament, yet here they are knocking on the door of another Sweet 16. Will they have enough in the tank to knock off Michigan State? Or will the Spartans find a way to crack Boeheim’s zone defense and keep their season alive for at least one more game?

#3 Michigan State vs. #11 Syracuse

  • Time/TV: 2:40PM ET/CBS
  • KenPom Spread: Michigan State (-7)

1) How will Michigan State handle the ‘Cuse zone?

When you play Syracuse, you know what you’re in for when trying to put the ball through the hoop — you must beat the two-three zone. That could be an issue for Michigan State who has a tendency of being streaky with the outside shot.

The two-three zone is meant to take away points in the paint and reduce the production of team’s front courts. As you should know by now, Michigan State is loaded in the front court and showcased that strength against Bucknell on Friday. Based on Syracuse’s defensive strategy, don’t expect the Spartans to experience the same kind of success as they did against the Bison.

One of the easiest ways to beat the zone is by shooting over it. So if Josh Langford is hitting the same kind of jump shots he did on Friday — he was 7-for-10 from the field with 22 points — then the Spartans should be alright. However, they will need to get the three-point shot going as Michigan State has struggled from behind the arc lately, including a 5-for-17 performance against Bucknell.

Syracuse held TCU to only 52 points on Friday, which is saying something since the Horned Frogs averaged 82.1 points per game this year. But they were terrible from outside, hitting only three of 17 for a 17.6 three-point percentage — TCU ranked inside the top 25 nationally in three-point percentage at 39.5 percent. So if Michigan State also struggles from behind the arc then they’ll definitely be on upset alert.

2) What will Miles Bridges’ second act look like against Syracuse?

Michigan State’s phenom sophomore did exactly what Spartan fans have been wanting him to do all season long on Friday against Bucknell — take over the game and prove he’s the best player on the floor.

Bridges was 12-for-22 from the field with 29 points and nine rebounds to help lead Michigan State past Bucknell. Even more impressive was his ability to take over the game in the second half with 19 points, which played a huge role in the Spartans pulling away late in that game. Bridges was the best player on the floor — like he’s been for most games this year — and in this case he actually proved it.

So what’s next for Bridges? Is this the start of one of those magical NCAA Tournament runs for him or was it just a rare outburst? Spartan fans are hoping for the latter of those two possibilities and so is Izzo. If Bridges plays like he did against Bucknell, Michigan State is extremely tough to beat. They’re hard to beat even when he’s hitting his normal average of 17.3 points but it’s just not the same as how he played on Friday night.

Bridges will have to hit some shots from outside against Syracuse, something he’s certainly capable of doing. We’ll just have to wait and see if he will have the same dominating mentality and be willing to put it up 20 times again like he did on Friday.

3) Will Syracuse be able to put up enough points against Spartans’ defense?

Playing great defense can take you places and win you games, but you also need offensive production to beat good teams in the NCAA Tournament. I’m not sure if Syracuse has enough offensive power to get that done.

I already hit on the importance of Michigan State beating the two-three zone, and acknowledged that’ll be a key factor in this game. Another key factor will be whether or not the Orange will be able to experience any success on offense. The stats will tell you that’s a big, fat no.

Syracuse ranks 315th nationally in scoring offense at 67 points per game. Even worse, the Orange rank 318th in field goal percentage (41.6 percent) and 322nd in three-point percentage (32 percent). Oh, and they like to turn the ball over too, with 12.3 turnovers per game — that ranks outside the top 200 nationally.

The team numbers are pretty bad offensively, but Syracuse does have three guys — Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett and Franklin Howard — that average more than 14 points per game, and got 17 points out of freshman Marek Dolezaj, who normally averages 5.6 points per game, against TCU on Friday. These four guys will need to showup to help the ‘Cuse overcome their offensive deficiencies because it’s going to be tough sledding against the Spartans’ normally sturdy defense.


Syracuse is a top 10 team defensively but simply terrible at the other end of the floor. So with that being said, I don’t see how the Orange will be able to score enough points to win a game of this magnitude. The two-three zone will give Michigan State some issues but the Spartans are due for a strong shooting night and if Cassius Winston can get his stroke back then the green-and-white will easily win this game. There’s always the possibility that Syracuse gets hot from behind the arc and the Spartans go cold, but I don’t see that happening in this game. Move Michigan State onto the Sweet 16.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Michigan State