MSU takes on Texas in the “Championship” game of the Las Vegas whatever-this-thing-is-called.
Game time: 6:30pm (EST)
MSU had an awesome showing yesterday in the first half, and a solid showing in the second (less good, but not a wheels-off-the-bus-let’s-hang-on type half). Texas similarly had a very strong performance against UNC, with a better first half, and then doing enough down the stretch to see the game out. UNC got plenty of looks in the end (29 3pt fga), but didn’t knock down enough, and White, though he had an awesome scoring game (he will likely never hit 7-9 from 3 again in his life), couldn’t quite make the right plays down the stretch (for example, he took an awful heat-check, step-back, fade-away 3 in the 90 seconds, with the game in the balance when he had drawn a double off a high ball-screen and Luke Maye standing wide open at the top of the arc...it was painful to watch) to see the game out.
Texas was led by Kerwin Roach, who was outstanding attacking the basket and making smart plays (32 pts, 3-3 from 3, 7 assists, 3 TO, 6 rebs), Matt Coleman (who had been ice-cold to start the season) found his game (16 pts), and Ostekowski (15 pts, plus a bit of everything) and Hayes (15 pts 5-5 from the field and 5-6 fts, 6 rebs, 3 blocks, and lots of good contests) dominated the UNC front-line.
This will be an interesting game. Obviously, MSU gets screwed on the timing (with like 12 hours max? from the end of the first game to the start of this next one... because of course), but Texas expended a TON of energy vs UNC too. Assume our legs to flag bit, and our 3pt shooting to be much worse. Couple that with Texas’ pressure defense, and this could be interesting. On one day of full rest I think that MSU wins by about 15 (we play defense infinitely better than UNC did yesterday, Winston is a much better point guard than White, and Nick Ward is better than the UNC 3 man big-man rotation).
In the actual game today, however, I think it will be closer, probably a single digit game. So what is the key to this one? Nick Ward. He played 22 minutes yesterday, and dealt with Brown and the rest of the UCLA front court impressively. Texas will be tougher and is stronger in the front-court, but Ward has a great match-up against Osetkowski (who I love, but should not be able to contain Nick). Hayes is excellent, long, and smart, but if Goins can work him a bit off the ball (look for him to find those pockets of space for elbow jumpers, rim dives off doubles, and pick-and-pop looks) then Ward should have room to operate.
Texas gives up 3pt fgas, so Nick will again have to be patient and a willing passer - if he can balance his game between attacking and distributing from the post then MSU will get all the looks they want (again, Osetkowski is a solid player, but Nick should be able to do fine on both ends).
Penultimate puzzle-piece: handling Texas’ pressure and denying penetration. Texas guards pressure the ball (it’s not full Shaka “VCU-havoc” but they will pressure our guys way more than UCLA did) and Cash will have to be careful with the rock, and with his pushing the ball (Texas will be well prepared to stop our wing-outlet passes). If Cash, McQ, Loyer (who will get more minutes and more early minutes this game), and Henry/Langford (who I guess will do some handling) can be smart and heady then we will be fine. We will need to be good on our help positioning too because this offense is predicated on Roach, Coleman, and Ramey getting to the paint they are all good ball-handlers, aggressive, and can all go either hand on the drive.
Final puzzle-piece: Tillman and Henry will really need to step up today - they were poor vs UNC and MSU will need them to be at double-double and solid contribution best today. Hayes, Sims, Hepa (if he gets minutes), and Osetkowski will give Ward and Goins plenty of pressure/work to do, so Tillman cannot be a passenger (Bingham jr will be less effective in this one I think). And with the other wings playing more, and maybe facing foul-trouble, Henry will need to defend without fouling, deny penetration, and get to the paint (and be smart when he gets there).
MSU 76 Texas 68