Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Michigan State earns a high-seed in the NCAA Tournament. In it’s first game, it gets punched in the mouth but a plucky mid-major automatic qualifier. Tom Izzo gets super angry. The game remains closer than it should. But ultimately, the Spartans find a way to survive and advance.
So has been the story before and so was the tale last Thursday against Bradley.
But despite the prolonged scare and resulting semi-distraction, Michigan State has found its way to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2014-’15.
The big question now is can Sparty keep the party going for one more weekend? Let’s dive in to figure that out.
-No. 2 Michigan State Spartans vs No. 3 LSU Tigers
- Time/TV: 7:09PM ET - CBS
- KenPom Spread: Michigan State (-6)
We’ll get back to Michigan State in a second, but I want to focus in on LSU, as the Tigers remain one of the more interesting Sweet Sixteen teams of recent memory.
That’s because much like the White Snake prophecy declared (and more so thanks to the indefinite suspension levied against Will Wade on March 8), the Tigers have essentially become head coachless drifters, born to navigate the NCAA Tournament alone.
A ship without a captain, LSU became a trendy upset pick entering its first round game against the Yale Bulldogs, but managed to slip by the Ivy League’s best before narrowly escaping fellow Big Ten opponent Maryland to earn a some what surprising trip to the Sweet Sixteen.
When you remove the cloud that Wade’s suspension has left over the program, LSU finding its way to the second weekend of March Madness shouldn’t be all that shocking. The regular season champions of the SEC were one of college basketball’s best teams during the course of the 2018-’19 season.
Led by a talented starting unit that features four double-digit scores in Tremont Waters, Naz Reid, Skylar Mays, and Javonte Smart, the Tigers are your prototypical March juggernaut, built to win when the stakes are at there highest.
Unsurprisingly, and despite its head coach considering ways to Bobby Valentine his way back to the sidelines, that brand of team focused basketball held true last weekend and has allowed LSU to make the best of a bad situation.
For Michigan State, it enters of the Sweet Sixteen fresh off the heels of the aforementioned squeaker against Bradley and a fairly convincing drubbing of perennial conference foe Minnesota.
In the win over Bradley, the Spartans ostensibly became the Michigan State Winstons as Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston played nearly the full 40 minutes, leading Sparty in both points (26) and assists (4).
Two days later against the Golden Gophers, Winston shared top-billing with sophomore forward Xavier Tillman, who led Michigan State with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting over a very efficient 22 minutes.
Both the Tigers and Spartans profile as similar teams — ones that excel at scoring the basketball while more than holding its own on the defensive end of the court.
That said, both the eye-test and advance metrics point to Michigan State doing both those things just a little bit better than LSU.
When you add in the fact that the Tigers are still without the man that guided them to a top 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament, and you have to like Michigan State’s odds of playing Sunday evening.
- Pick Against The Spread: Michigan State
Season Record vs KenPom’s Spread: 19-28