The last time Michigan State played in New York City, it went quite poorly, as the Spartans' offense devolved into a mess of turnovers and bricks in their loss to Georgetown. The Spartans seem to have bounced back from their February swoon though, and look to make it to the Final Four for the first time since 2010. Here are a few narratives to keep in mind as MSU looks to book its trip to Dallas.
- Virginia looks tricky, but they play a style the Spartans have seen before. Cavalier head coach Tony Bennett is the son of Dick Bennett, coach of Wisconsin before Bo Ryan. When Bo took over he kept the younger Bennett on his staff until Tony left to coach under his father again at Washington State. Tony inherited the position of head coach from his father, coaches the Cougars for three years until heading to Virginia. He's taken the Cavaliers from a sub-.500 season to an NCAA tournament #1 seed in four years.
So how does he do it? If you guessed by getting his teams to slow down the tempo and great field goal defense (like Bo), you're right! The Cavaliers are the second-slowest team in the tourney (only Cal Poly is slower) , and only Arizona and Louisville (and 14th seeded North Carolina Central, but whatever) play better effective field goal defense. If the Spartans and Cavaliers meet in the Sweet 16, it'll be just like playing Wisconsin, for better and worse.
- Your other rooting interest in this region - Providence. The Friars made it squarely off the bubble by winning the Big East Tournament, beating St. John's, Seton Hall, and the Fightin' Dougie McDermotts (Creighton) in consecutive days. The reason you want Providence to win our two fold. First, one time Spartan target and Lansing-born LaDontae Henton is a key player, playing almost 36 minutes a game. Second and probably more importantly, the Friars play North Carolina in the Round of 64, and the sooner the Tar Heels are out of this thing, the better.
- The Connecticut-Villanova upset is happening. Villanova has beaten only one top-25 KenPom opponent all season (Kansas, back in November). Since then the Wildcats have not been able to beat the best (0-3 against the KenPom top 25, those losses being Syracuse and Creighton twice). UConn, meanwhile, has three top-25 KenPom wins (Florida, Cincinnati twice). The Huskies shoot great from three (38.7%, 25th in D1), a key component in most upsets. Lastly, Villanova has been fairly lucky this season: they're the 21st best team in KenPom's luck component, which indicates that they should have a few more losses on their record. I think Villanova is overseeded as a 2, and that the Huskies make it to the Sweet Sixteen.
- Please, please let Harvard win. The year was 2005. Ager Bombs were all the rage in East Lansing. A young Kelly Clarkson was teaching America how to love. And Tom Izzo was almost always good for beating Tommy Amaker's Wolverines twice a year. As it comes to be when basketball teams are below .500 in the Big Ten every season, Tommy Amaker was fired. The year's 2014, and Tommy Amaker's Crimson have reached the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year. If Harvard can make it past Cincinnati in the Round of 64 (FiveThirtyEight gives Harvard a 42% chance), Tom and Tommy will meet up once again, and we'll hopefully get to live out some of MSU's glory years against Michigan all over again.
- Three predictions:
- All the teams will play hard and have a good time. Well, maybe not Memphis.
- Shabazz Napier is your player of the region. He leads the Huskies to an upset of Villanova, gets the best of Marcus Paige and UNC in the Sweet Sixteen, and then plays valiantly in the Elite 8, where the Huskies lose to...
- Michigan State gets it done and goes to Dallas. Never count out Tournament Tom.