NCAA Tournament Betting Pick: Michigan State vs. Virginia

David Lawrence

Saturday, March 21, 2015 3:25 PM UTC

Saturday, Mar. 21, 2015 3:25 PM UTC

The Michigan State Spartans and Virginia Cavaliers met last year in the NCAA tournament. Michigan State won that game so Virginia is trying to gain revenge. Will that factor matter? The Cavs are a five-point college basketball betting favorite.

The Michigan State Spartans Can Win Because…
Their level of play is good enough to beat Virginia – that’s the most important thing, even though they're currently listed as short underdogs on the NCAA Tournament odds. You could find some faults with this team in various places, but for the most part, the Spartans are reacting well on defense. Their big men are getting involved at both ends of the floor, playing well in the low post and running their lanes on fast breaks for layups when they’re available. Matt Costello is playing as well on defense as he has all season. Then Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice are doing what they need to do on offense. They are working around screens, sharing the ball well, and getting teammates involved. Valentine and Trice combined for 12 assists against only five turnovers on Friday against Georgia. They combined for 31 points and nine rebounds as well. They both hit two three-point shots to spread out Georgia’s defense, enabling teammate Branden Dawson to be very effective in scoring near the basket. Dawson hit 6 of 9 shots for 14 points. The balance of Michigan State’s offense is where this team needs it to be. The shooting percentages can be a little better. Trice will need to be better than the 6 of 15 rate he put up against Georgia. However, the ball movement and the sound fundamentals are there for Michigan State.

The other reason Michigan State can win is that its defense is on point. The Spartans held Georgia to 33 percent field goal shooting on Friday. Georgia made just 4 of 14 three-point shots. Georgia has a lot of players who can penetrate, and Michigan State was able to funnel that penetration into a big man. The Spartans know how to limit an opponent’s offensive options. Against a Virginia team that has struggled at times to score this season, that could easily make the difference.

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The Virginia Cavaliers Can Win Because…
The Cavaliers have had a hard time scoring this season, but in their last two games, they have averaged 73 points per game. This team can score, it’s just that it is so good on defense that its passing skills and offensive talent don’t surface as much. Virginia has played ugly games, but this is a smart team which knows how to execute.

On Friday, Virginia hit 45.6 percent of its shots, which – with its defense – is generally going to win games. The Cavaliers earned 25 foul shots and made 21 of them. That would win this game against Michigan State, most likely. Most of all, Virginia committed only seven turnovers. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo expects his Spartans to be very disruptive toward Virginia or any other team he plays. If Virginia can protect the ball very effectively, it will hugely improve its odds of winning. Belmont was a team that relied a lot on shooting threes without having a low-post scorer who could really threaten Virginia. The Cavaliers should be able to guard Michigan State closer to the basket, since MSU will try to attack the basket. The other thing Virginia should like: Georgia outrebounded Michigan State, 12-5, on the offensive glass. Virginia should be able to pound the Spartans on the backboards.


This should be a very close game, but Michigan State was weak on the boards and is not a good free-throw shooting team. Virginia should have just enough to get by in this game, so take them as your NCAA tournament pick.

NCAA Tournament Pick: Virginia -5 at Bodog

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