NCAA Basketball Picks: Michigan State vs. Oklahoma

David Lawrence

Monday, March 23, 2015 1:10 PM GMT

The Michigan State Spartans just sent the regular season Atlantic Coast Conference champions, the Virginia Cavaliers, packing. They are now a force to be reckoned with in the East Regional this upcoming weekend. They’re going to feel some pressure but they’re still favored against the Oklahoma Sooners on the college basketball betting lines in the Sweet 16.

The Michigan State Spartans Can Win Because…
Their defense is doing an excellent job, playing as well as it has all season long and they're currently listed as short favorites on the NCAA Tournament odds. Michigan State held Virginia to just under 30 percent shooting on Sunday, as the Spartans advanced to the Sweet 16. Michigan State was even better in terms of its three-point shooting defense. The Spartans held Virginia to just two made three-pointers in 17 attempts. Virginia realized that the long-distance shot wasn’t working, and while the Cavaliers were able to get to the free throw line at times, they could not make a lot of contested shots from all parts of the court when Michigan State managed to avoid fouling. The difference for Michigan State is that big men Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling, two players who have done very little for this team on offense, have become quality defensive players. They were able to body up on Virginia’s frontcourt trio of Darion Atkins, Anthony Gill, and Mike Tobey. Those three players combined for a modest 24 points. None of them was able to become a productive player late in the game, when Virginia needed an extra dose of offense. Michigan State held the Cavaliers to just six assists, which shows that a defense is choking off passing lanes and forcing an offense to earn every single basket. With the effort Michigan State is getting everywhere, it would seem foolish to doubt the Spartans in this situation.

 

The Oklahoma Sooners Can Win Because…
They just won what amounted to a road game in the NCAA Tournament. The Sooners had to play the Dayton Flyers in the Flyers’ home state of Ohio. Dayton got a big partisan crowd behind it in Columbus, Ohio, for the first two games of this NCAA tournament. Oklahoma, on the other hand, looked as though it was in big, big trouble when it fell behind Dayton by six points, 43-37, midway through the second half. However, the Sooners rallied, with TaShawn Thomas going to the basket and daring the officials to blow a whistle.

The officials didn’t usually call a foul, but Thomas was able to score – he posted two baskets just when Oklahoma needed them, spurring that rally from a six-point deficit. Thomas’ defense near the basket was also just what Oklahoma had to be able to do against a smaller Dayton team. Oklahoma’s defense has been the strength of the team. OU can match up with Michigan State if this game devolves into a pure slugfest.

Thomas was just one of many Sooners who worked a lot harder in the second half than they did in the first against Dayton. The Sooners were able to halt a very rough and extended period of the game to silence the Dayton crowd. Oklahoma was better on the boards, better at staying with shooters, better at pretty much everything on defense. In the end, Oklahoma got 10 offensive rebounds to Dayton’s 4. The Sooners outscored Dayton at the free throw line, 19-11. They hit 50 percent of their three-point attempts, which was necessary on a day when Dayton was 11 of 21 from three-point range.

 

Outlook
The Sooners are tough and resilient, but Michigan State sets a higher standard under Tom Izzo in March which is why we're backing them with our NCAA tournament picks. Take Izzo in this college basketball betting matchup, even though Oklahoma is the higher seed.

NCAA Tournament Pick: Michigan State -1 at Bodog