Your MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS vs the LOUISVILLE CARDINALS
US AIRWAYS CENTER -- PHOENIX, ARIZONA
THURSDAY, MARCH 22th, 2012, 7:47 PM EST
ONLINE RADIO FEED: Spartan Sports Network
I don't want to start this preview by mentioning the 2009 Elite 8 game. One of the common ways to write a game preview (and one that I've used many times) is to A) recap the last game played between the two teams, B) detail what has changed since the last game, and C) predict how those changes might affect the game to be played. This game feels like it doesn't deserve a preview like that; a game of this magnitude deserves a piece of writing with original prose, structure, and clarity that NCAA tournament games such as this one deserve.
However, I can't think of anything original at this point, 8:47 AM on game day, so know this -- three years ago #2 seed Michigan State played Louisville in Indianapolis after coming off a comeback win against Kansas. Very, very few thought Michigan State could prevail against the overall number one seed, but not only did they prevail, the victory was decisive, thanks to Goran Suton's timely three pointers in the first half to keep the game close, then used a bevy of three-pointers to put the game away in the second.
This Sweet Sixteen match appears to bear little resemblance to the Spartans' and Cardinals' last meeting, as MSU is the higher seed, and Louisville appears to be much more mentally prepared than last time. After the jump, quotes, stats to know, and a key to win the game.
One of the big questions about this game is whether or not Michigan State will try to run with Louisville. It's pretty clear what the Cardinals will try to do:
Pitino on preferred pace. "Michigan State is as good a running team as there is in college basketball." But "we're gonna run with them."— Joe Rexrode (@joerexrode) March 21, 2012
To me the question is not whether Michigan State can run with the Cardinals (any game not featuring North Carolina or Duke should show that), but should they. It's not so much Michigan State's transition offense I'm concerned about but rather their transition defense. Even during their six-game win streak, the Cardinal offense has broken 1.05 PPG just once, and that's primarily a function of their mediocre two-point shooting (47.9%, 170th in the NCAA) and bad three-point shooting (31.3%, 287th in Division One). A caveat to the 'Ville's three-point shooting -- guard Kyle Kuric has had a Chris Hill-like slump this year, going from 44.9% on threes last season to 33.3% this season. He's shown he can hit from behind the arc before, so he'll still need to be guarded. Allowing easy points on the fast break will give Louisville's offense a boost that MSU can't afford.
In part running in transition relates to this game's crux -- turnovers. KJ put it best:
Two keys tonight: (1) Avoid TOs, beat press for easy points. Louisville very likely to struggle in halfcourt if MSU doesn't turn ball over.— KJ (@KJonthebanks) March 22, 2012
My fear is that MSU hasn't had to face the press much this season, so seeing a foreign defense is a concern. My hope is that the starting lineup has three good ball-handlers (Keith Appling, Brandon Wood, and of course Draymond Green) that should be able to handle to the press, avoid turnovers, and avoid fast break lay-ups for the Cardinals. As for KJ's other point...
Key (2): Reassert off rebounding presence to take advantage of L'ville's weakness on def glass. MSU at 30%+ in only 3 of last 9 games.— KJ (@KJonthebanks) March 22, 2012
Louisville's main weakness on defense comes from their inability to consistently rebound on defense; the Cardinals allow opponents to recoup 34.2% of their misses, good for 255th in the NCAA. When Michigan State misses shots (and they will, the Cardinals' two-point defense is fourth best in the nation at 41.6%, and while three-point defense can be random Louisville's 17th at 30.2%) they'll need Green, Derrick Nix, Adreian Payne et al. to convert second chances. Obvious point is obvious -- Branden Dawson would've been really, really good to have in this game.
No prediction this time, because I feel that if I predict an MSU win will jinx the Spartans, and I don't want to think about Michigan State losing this game. The logical part of my mind feels like Michigan State should win this game. Both teams have elite defenses, but Michigan State's half-court offense is superior to Louisville's, and I feel that's where the difference will be made. My illogical part is reminding me that Michigan State can still be turnover prone (but much less so this year, this is the first season in recent memory where the Spartans have turned it over less than one in every five possessions), shots can be missed, and games can be lost.
I don't know that State will win, but I believe they will. Primarily because the alternative is so much worse.