The Spartans are on to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2015. It is a very chalky tournament thus far, with the top four seeds remaining in both regionals on MSU’s side of the bracket. Things certainly won’t get any easier for MSU as they move into the second weekend.
Up first for the Spartans is LSU on Friday night. Here’s all you need to know about the Spartans next opponent.
School: Louisiana State University
Location: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
The Tigers of LSU are in their first Sweet Sixteen since 2006, when they went to the Final Four. Since then they have only made three tournament appearances, including this year.
But this is indeed a different year. The Tigers won the SEC regular season championship, finishing 16-2, a game ahead of Kentucky and Tennessee. They were then bounced in the first round of the SEC Tournament by Florida.
The big issue surrounding LSU is the suspension of head coach Will Wade, who was caught on an FBI wiretap discussing a deal he had reportedly offered a recruit. That recruit is believed to be freshman guard Javonte Smart.
Wade was suspended by the university and will apparently remain suspended for the foreseeable future.
LSU is currently 19th in the KenPom ratings. They were the lowest ranked of the three seeds coming in and remain that way after two games. They are also the second lowest remaining team in the kenpom, with 12-seed Oregon as the lowest.
The Tigers are 13th in offensive efficiency and 49th in defensive efficiency, making them the worst remaining AdjD team in the tournament.
Looking at the four factors on offense, the one number that sticks out is the offensive rebounding. LSU is ninth in the nation on the offensive glass, grabbing 36.8% of their misses.
They are 57th in the nation at getting to the free throw line, and do a good job of converting when they are there at 75.4% as a team (32nd nationally). They get 21.6% of their points at the free throw line.
LSU is a little above average shooting team in terms of eFG percentage. They are 66th in two-point shooting, which accounts for the largest portion of their points by far, 53.3 percent. However, they are just a 32% shooting team from three, 290th in the country. They get the least amount of their points from threes than any team remaining the tournament besides Kentucky.
They are pretty middle of the road in terms of turning it over on offense, and are not prone to getting their shots blocked very much.
Defensively, their best of the four factors is turnover percentage, where they are 70th in the country forcing turnovers 20.3% of the time. That is helped by a 12.3% steal rate, good for sixth in the nation. That is an especially concerning number for Michigan State coming off a 22 turnover performance against Minnesota.
LSU is slightly better than average in defensive eFG%, and is about the same in both two and three point shooting percentages against.
You can get to the line against them, as they are 209th in defensive free throw rate.
But the real interesting number is that LSU is 266th in defensive rebounding percentage, allowing teams to rebound over 30% of their missed shots. So the Tigers are great at crashing the offensive glass, but not so great on the defensive end, which is somewhat odd. They were actually out-rebounded on the offensive glass against Maryland 14-10 in their second round win.
One other defensive number that stands out is the assists per field goal rate. LSU allows an assist on 44.1% of their field goals against, 22nd lowest in the country. Michigan State is number one in the nation in assists per field goals at better than 67 percent. Something is going to give there.
Players to Watch
LSU has four players averaging double figures, led by 5-11 point guard Tremont Waters at 15 points per game. Waters also leads the team in assists (5.9) and steals (2.9) per game. His steal rate is the fourth highest in the country.
Waters has the second most attempts and makes from three on the team this year, connecting at a 32.1% clip. He plays almost 75% of the minutes for the Tigers.
Next up is Naz Reid, the 6-10 freshman averaging 13.7 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Reid can rebound both ends of the floor, shoots over 50% from two, and 35% from three, although he averages less than a made three per game, but he has the ability to do it. He is also a 73.8% foul shooter.
Junior Skylar Mays is a 6-4 guard averaging 13.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game. He is the team leader in made and attempted three-pointers, but is only 31.2% shooting from deep. He can get to the line and when he does he’s an 86% shooter.
The aforementioned Javonte Smart rounds out the double digit scorers, averaging 11.4 points per game. The 6-4 freshman guard can also shoot it from the charity stripe at almost 84 percent.
Those four play a large chunk of the minutes for LSU, with the three guards all over 71% and Naz Reid at 63.7 percent.
Marlon Taylor, a 6-5 junior, and Kavell Bigby-Williams, a 6-11 senior, are the other major contributors.
Bigby-Williams is second on the team in rebounding at 6.8 per game, and leads the team with two blocks per game. His block rate is top-20 in the nation, and his offensive rebounding rate is tenth.
The Tigers also have a couple of 6-6 wing players they can bring at you in Emmitt Williams and Darius Days. Williams has done well crashing the offensive glass when he is in there and days is a potential three-point threat at almost 38 percent.
LSU is a good team. They are athletic and they have some size. You don’t win the SEC regular season without being good. That being said, I think they are also pretty flawed. They tend to go through spurts where they are just kind of running around trying to out athlete everyone, which they have often been able to do. But when you take them out of their game, they have a hard time adjusting.
Look at the last two games for example. LSU had big leads on both Maryland and Yale before both teams were able to come back and make a game of it, with the Maryland game coming down to the final possession.
Here’s another stat, since the Will Wade suspension, the Tigers have been outscored 192-140 in the second half. That’s over four games, for an average of 13 points per game. That tells me that they have a really hard time adjusting within the game.
If it’s me, and Tom Izzo has a week to prepare, I’m feeling pretty good about my chances when it comes to that part of the game.
Ultimately what this one might come down to is MSU taking care of the ball. Turnovers kill you, especially when they go for easy points the other way, which LSU’s high steal rate can do. That can pretty quickly negate the defensive advantage MSU has.
And that defensive advantage is noticeable. The Spartans are much better defensively overall, especially against the two-pointers, which is where LSU gets most of their points.
MSU is also good on the glass, 24th in offensive rebounding, and 86th in defensive rebounding. Second chance points may be a big factor for both teams in this game so it might come down to who is better on the defensive glass, and that is advantage MSU.
All of these numbers add up to MSU being a seven point favorite per KenPom, and a 75% chance to move on.
MSU is the better team, and the more experienced team. This will be no easy task, but the Spartans have an excellent chance at advancing to the Elite Eight, and playing for a chance to hang another Final Four banner.