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Michigan State Basketball: Early Look at the Final Four

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Some thoughts heading into the week

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

First a couple of tables that I like:

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Also the odds from our friends over at FiveThirtyEight:

Team Championship Game Champions
Kentucky 69% 53%
Duke 67% 22%
Wisconsin 31% 19%
Michigan State 33% 7%

My Thoughts

The 2014-15 Michigan State Spartans have made it to the Final Four. That still hasn't completely sunk in for me. The road to winning goes through two of the three remaining No. 1 seeds all with their own individual terrifying aspect. Duke with potential No. 1 pick in Jahlil Okafor, Wisconsin with National Player of the Year in Frank "The Tank" Kaminsky, and undefeated Kentucky who may be called the best college basketball team in 20 years if they win it all. The one thing they all have in common? A dominating big man, something that MSU has had issues with due to the fact Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling both stand just 6'9".


Duke

MSU can beat Duke and Wisconsin. They lost to Duke by 10 in a game where Denzel Valentine had 5 turnovers, and Marvin Clark and Lourawls Nairn were playing in just their second collegiate game and struggled (Yes, I know, Duke has freshmen too, but it was their third game and they also played high level basketball with USA basketball). Duke started a bigger lineup against MSU than what they do now with 6'9" Amile Jefferson at power forward and 6'6" Justice Winslow at small forward. They now start Justice Winslow at PF and 6'5" shooter Matt Jones at SF. One thing that bodes well for MSU is that in the 4 losses Duke suffered this year, all were to teams that are much better on offense than on defense, which is the case for MSU. Another factor is that Michigan State is a team that relies heavily on watching and scouting what the other team does and because Duke basically brought in a new team this year, they didn't have much of an opportunity to see what this Duke team could do.


Wisconsin

MSU obviously can also beat Wisconsin clearly shown by taking them to overtime in the Big Ten Tournament Finals. After getting beat pretty badly in their first matchup (despite what the final scoreline was), MSU made adjustments and had a great gameplan going into the second game. If the Spartans make a few more plays, they walk away the title (and right into the 6 seed in the West facing Arizona in the Sweet 16, so it was a blessing in disguise). The biggest issue in the second game, in my opinion, was over helping on the interior leading to kickouts and open 3's. Wisconsin shot 50% from 3 (13-26) accounting for 39 of their 80 points. The problem is that Nigel Hayes and Frank Kaminsky are such difficult matchups in the post and it's a "pick your poison" situation on how to defend them.


Kentucky

However, I don’t think they can beat Kentucky. They would get killed on the boards and Kentucky’s length on the perimeter would make it too hard on small guys like Forbes and Trice to get 3’s off cleanly. Forbes struggles against perimeter length as indicated by going 0-8 against Ohio State's lengthy, perimeter athletes. If MSU ends up beating Duke and loses to Wisconsin in the Championship Game, I would take the loss much harder than if they lose to Kentucky because my expectations would be lower for that game.


Overall

Whatever happens in this next game or two doesn't diminish what this team has accomplished. This is likely the most unlikely Izzo Final Four run and this team should be remembered for exceeding expectations in what was perceived to be a down year. The seniors, despite all odds, got to a Final Four beating a 2, 3, and 4 seed in the process. They'll hang a banner in the rafters and be rightfully remembered as Spartan leaders who willed their team to the final weekend of the tournament.