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Michigan State Spartans NCAA Tournament Basketball: Virginia Preview

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To the pain

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

East Region Log5 Update

I've seen a lot of "whoever wins the MSU-Virginia game is going to the Final Four" talk. I'm not convinced that's the case. Assuming a win against Virginia, an MSU win against Oklahoma would be the second or third best win on the season, depending on how you feel about Maryland. And then, a win against Northern Iowa or Louisville would be one of the best wins of the year, as well. This is not a cakewalk after Virginia, but it is a little easier. That's shown above.

Four Factors

Here's the bad news: Virginia is Wisconsin. They're going to take care of the ball, and try to avoid getting their shots blocked. They're going to send dudes to the defensive glass and try to stop MSU from getting out in transition. They're going to make you hate the game of basketball.

When Virginia Has the Ball

Anthony Gill is a crafty, efficient 6'8 big, shooting 59% from the field, and is the 12th best offensive rebounder in the nation. Box him out, pls. Darion Atikins is a slightly less efficient big, but also hits the boards. Atkins is the best shot-blocker on the team as well. Mike Tobey is a seven-footer who adds all of these things, as well. Tobey only played 5 minutes in the first game against Belmont and did not appear to be in foul trouble. Not sure if he'll get more run in this one.

Malcolm Brogdon is a secondary creator from the wing and shoots 35.2% from three. He's also terrific from the free throw line.

Justin Anderson is a wing back from injury, and is lethal from deep (47% from three).

London Perrantes runs the point and doesn't use very many possessions, but can shoot it from outside some. His assist to turnover rate is not as impressive as I'd expect; it'd be helpful for him to cough the ball up some.

Evan Nolte is a low-usage fourth big; he shoots 28% from deep so you can expect him to go 3-3 in this game.

Marial Shayok is one of few freshman getting much run. He's a wing that can shoot some but can also be careless with the ball.

The Good News: Virginia tends to play some hero ball, and their main distributor is also the most likely to give up the ball.

The Bad News: Nobody other than Perrantes turns the ball over much. Anderson is healthy and dangerous. Tobey could be a tough matchup. Gill draws a lot of contact down low, so Mavin Costelling could be in foul trouble early.

When MSU Has the Ball

Well, I just can't imagine that MSU will be able to get out into transition very often. Virginia's penchant for taking care of the ball will force MSU to run (gulp) half-court offense. Against Georgia, this half-court offense wasn't effective until transition opportunities opened up Georgia's defense a bit and MSU settled in. That's probably not going to happen.

This limits the usefulness of Tum Tum. If MSU isn't pushing tempo, Tum just doesn't bring much in the half-court, because he allows Virginia's pack line to sag even further and pay more attention to shooters. Spacing will be of utmost importance, and Tum collapses that.

Against Georgia, Pete noted this:

I think everyone knows I'm on the Marvin Clark train. And I'm going to officially depart the Gavin Schilling train for this season. Against Georgia: 4 minutes, 3 fouls. A nice 30 fouls/40 minutes pace. If he's not defending effectively, he's just not a useful player right now.

So why not change the bigs rotation against Virginia? Virginia plays just one guy above 6'8 in Tobey. Clark and Dawson have played effectively together for some stretches when Schilling and Costello have been in foul trouble. Costello also has flashed some potential with his jumper, and I think the ability for a big to shoot the ball effectively will be key in unlocking this Virginia defense.

Every team that has had an efficient offensive performance has taken and made a healthy number of threes, and I can't imagine it would be any different for MSU. Virginia allows just 40.1 percent of two-pointers to be made, and that's good for third in the country. They've been marginally worse on threes at 19th in the country, but that outcome is a little less repeatable for them. Additionally, MSU should adopt a higher-variance strategy as the underdog, anyways. Here's to Bryn Forbes and Travis Trice from the left side & Denzel Valentine on the right side:

Also, if Branden Dawson can mitigate the usual Virginia dominance on the defensive glass, that would be hugely helpful.

Prediction

The winner of this game keeps their tournament life, in a more open East region. The loser will be reduced to hearing the shrieks of their fans (or children).

Virginia's general strategy is equivalent to fouling up three for an entire game: it might be the best strategy, but it sucks for the game of basketball that it works. The counter is to make threes and do some garbage collecting on the offensive boards. This MSU team, when it's on, can do that. But we'll know pretty early whether or not that offensive strategy is working. Considering the difficulty that MSU had in creating in the half-court against Georgia, I just don't see that happening.

But then again, perhaps we have the strength after all.

MSU 58 - Virginia 60