After a satisfying win against future Big Ten foe USC, Michigan State gets a challenging draw for their second game of the NCAA Tournament, the Marquette Golden Eagles. Both teams are coming off of double digit wins in their opening round games in Columbus, Marquette having taken down the Catamounts of Vermont.
Against USC, the good version of MSU showed up after the quick exit in the Big Ten Tournament. MSU’s defense was able to stifle USC’s premier guard Boogie Ellis, holding him to just 6 points on the day. “We got our mojo back,” Tom Izzo said of his team’s performance, where the Spartans were able to pull away in the second half after being tied at 34 going into the break. WIth big games from Joey Hauser, Jaden Akins, Tyson Walker, and AJ Hoggard, and timely plays down the stretch from Freshmen Tre Holloman and Carson Cooper, the Trojans were sent home.
While Vermont was able to hang with Marquette, the Golden Eagles showed their overall superiority in a 78-61 win. Their star guard Kam Jones had a quiet first half, scoring just 1 point, before unloading in the second half, scoring 18 consecutive points for the Big East champs. Marquette’s win - their first NCAA Tournament victory since 2013 - was their tenth in a row, fueled by Jones’ explosive second half as well as Oso Ighodaro’s 17 points and David Joplin’s 12.
Sunday’s game is a matchup between college basketball coaching’s new and old guard, as Tom Izzo, now the longest tenured coach in Division 1, faces off against Shaka Smart, the perpetually youthful 45 year old who burst onto the scene in 2011 with VCU’s improbable run from the First Four in Dayton to the Final Four against Butler. Smart’s aggressive “Havoc” defense was the terror of 2011, forcing turnovers and wreaking, well, havoc, on opponents. His scheme at Marquette isn’t the same as what took VCU to the mountaintop 12 years ago, but the chaos and aggression are still there on the offensive side of the ball, with ball screens and movement that will have MSU on their heels. Tyler Kolek, the point guard who steers the offensive ship for Marquette, injured his thumb against Vermont. All indications are that it isn’t severe enough to keep him out on Sunday, but it may limit him against the Spartans.
This is a fascinating second round matchup. There are angles aplenty, with two compelling coaches, geography, a contrast in styles, and one of MSU’s top players having been a Marquette Golden Eagle for the first two years of his college career. MSU’s win against USC was as feel-good as you could realistically hope for. They neutralized the Trojans’ best player, made timely plays, and got meaningful contributions from just about everyone who saw the floor. Can they do that two days later against a team with significantly better pieces? That’s the big question. When firing on all cylinders, this team can hang with anyone. It’s the most exciting and frustrating part of this year’s squad.
KenPom sees this as a 3 point Marquette win, and the oddsmakers agree. Marquette feels like a slightly better team than that, but if MSU’s defense stays hot and slows down Marquette’s flurry of activity, there’s a decent shot that we get at least one more look at this team next weekend in New York.