The Harvard Crimson have done it again. They've pulled off a second-round upset in the NCAA Tournament as a double-digit seed. Last year, Harvard was a No. 14 seed and beat third-seeded New Mexico in the second round. This year, Harvard was a No. 12 seed that defeated the fifth-seeded Cincinnati Bearcats.
The Crimson can win because…
They can move the ball so well and can get a good defense out of position. Cincinnati has a really good defense and even though Harvard struggled with the Bearcats' full-court pressure defense for 15 minutes or so in that game on Thursday, Harvard outplayed Cincinnati's defense for the other 25 minutes, doing more than a lot of teams have been able to do against a team that likes to play physically and with a certain chip on its shoulder. Harvard's ball movement was just too good for Cincinnati on most occasions. The Crimson forced Cincinnati to guard for all 35 seconds on the shot clock and more specifically, they made the Bearcats cover every inch of the floor. Harvard worked the ball into the corners of the court, passing the ball to the wings, to the top of the key, and into the paint. It became a real challenge for the Bearcats to make all of their defensive switches and adjustments, all because Harvard refused to be impatient.
Michigan State is a team that is historically known for its defense as well but the Spartans were scorched by a number of teams during the Big Ten regular season. Harvard can certainly win the battle between its own offense and Michigan State's defense. A lot of people are penciling Michigan State into the Sweet 16 with their NCAA basketball picks but don’t assume anything here.
The Spartans can win because…
They have a player Harvard won't be able to stop: Adreian Payne. He’s an elite post player who scored 41 points on Thursday in a win over Delaware. The thing to appreciate about that game is that Delaware actually had a center with good size and bulk, but Payne took him to school because of a big advantage in foot quickness.
Harvard does not have a particularly tall post player, so Michigan State can just dump the ball into Payne and let him go to work. If Harvard chooses to send defensive help at Payne, Michigan State's best player can simply pass the ball outside where open shooters should be able to get lots of really good three-point chances. Sparty should be able to get whatever kind of shot it wants against Harvard's defense, and as this game goes along, it's likely that they’ll begin to figure out Harvard's offense, becoming more and more certain of what they can do.
Michigan State should also be able to get a lot more rebounds than Harvard, and if this game is still close midway through the second half, that's something which should work in the Spartans' favor against the Crimson.
Outlook & Pick
Michigan State has Payne and Harvard doesn't. That's a simple reason to pick Michigan State on the NCAA basketball odds. They’re in good shape on offense and they’ll be able to outscore Harvard even if they don't play great defense.
Pick: Michigan State -7 at SportsInteraction