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NCAA Tournament 2014: Game Preview for Michigan State vs. Harvard - Sparty vs. Smarty

Tom Izzo will be reacquainted with an old adversary as the Spartans play the Crimson to move into the Sweet Sixteen.






Note: The editors wish to thank MSUDersh for his contribution to today's headline.

Tommy Amaker coached the Michigan Wolverines for six seasons, from 2001 to 2007. In those six seasons he was 3-7 against Michigan State, 43-53 in the Big Ten, and 108-84 overall. While he and Michigan did win the NIT title in 2004, the Wolverines never made it to an NCAA tournament under Amaker's direction. For this reason among others, Amaker was let go in 2007. He then coached Harvard to an 8-22 record in '07-'08, but the Crimson's record only rose from there.

In 2011 Harvard made the NIT. In 2012 the Crimson reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 56 years. In 2013 the Crimson not only went to the tournament, but won their first-ever NCAA Tournament game, a 68-62 victory over New Mexico.  Now Harvard has a win over five-seed Cincinnati, and the Crimson seek to be the first Ivy League team to make it to the Sweet Sixteen since Cornell four years ago, but Amaker's old nemesis Tom Izzo is blocking the way.

The Crimson are accurate shots.  Although Harvard doesn't take many threes, they connect when they do to the tune of 38.8%, 26th in Division 1.  That percentage is spearheaded by two players: 6'0" sophomore Siyani Chambers (39.2% from three), and 6'5" senior and Québécois Laurent (43.3% from three). While Chambers can score in a few ways, Laurent's job and seemingly only job is to shoot the three as French Canada's answer to Jon Diebler. The Crimson are also very, very good at drawing fouls on offense, something that should give the Spartans a bit of trepidation, especially after the win over Delaware.

On defense there's no one thing the Crimson do poorly. They force a number of turnovers (21.3 TO% on defense) and protect the inside as well.  While they are undersized (only two players are taller than 6'7", and those players are spot reserves), one aspect of their play that struck me when I watched them on Thursday was how good their mechanics were when boxing out. Sure, Cincinnati rebounded 40% of their misses, but at least the Crimson were putting their butts and bodies and getting in good position.

Here are three things MSU can do to make it to their sixth Sweet 16 in seven years:

  • Don't overcomplicate it - keep feeding Payne. Every player 6'7" or taller for the Crimson averages at least four fouls per 40 minutes, with 6'7" starter Kyle Casey averaging 6.2 fouls per game.  While MSU couldn't fully take advantage of Carl Baptiste's foul trouble against Delaware,  Payne abused the Blue Hen when Baptiste refused to guard him out to the three point line. I doubt Harvard makes the same mistake, but on the other hand that should open up the inside.
  • DEATH TO TURNOVERS. The Spartan offense would've been uber-efficient in the first half if it wasn't for the ten turnovers. As mentioned earlier, Harvard likes to force turnovers, with 6'5" Wesley Saunders and 6'1" Brandyn Curry being the main ball thieves. Loose hands lead to steals. Steals lead to easy points. Points lead to Michigan State getting upset. Michigan State getting upset...leads to suffering.
  • Give good ol' JUD a fantastic show before leaving Spokane. Jud was the last key to the came against Delaware, and he's the last key now. Let's hope the players give the patriarch of Spartan Basketball 40 minutes of focus.
KenPom says Michigan State 70, Harvard 67, and that the Spartans have a 63% chance of winning. This seems a bit low, but Harvard did it close at UConn (61-56) earlier in the year. has the Spartans with a 77% chance of winning, that seems more in line with my gut.  Lastly, Vegas has MSU as -7.5 point favorites.  Harvard may be small, but they won on Thursday in large part to holding the Bearcats to 38% shooting from two. Efficiency will be of the utmost importance for the Spartans to make it to Madison Square Garden to continue the dream.