Before deciding on your NCAA Tournament pick for tonight's match between the Michigan State Spartans & Louisville Cardinals, remember that they have met twice in the Big Dance over the past seven years.
The Michigan State Spartans Can Win Because…
Their defense is likely to cause problems for Louisville’s offense. Louisville shot 50 percent from the field against North Carolina State on Friday. The Cardinals were very organized and got a lot of the shots they wanted to take. Michigan State can prevent Louisville from getting those good shots in this game. Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling don’t score a lot, but they do provide very strong and active interior defense. They can keep Montrezl Harrell and Mangok Mathiang, Louisville’s big men, under wraps. So can another member of MSU’s frontcourt, starter Branden Dawson.
Michigan State held Oklahoma to 36 percent field goal shooting in its win over the Sooners on Friday. The Spartans were just too tough for Oklahoma, bodying them up in the paint and contesting perimeter shots. Oklahoma hit just 4 of 17 three-pointers, and Louisville is one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country. The Cardinals are ranked 314th out of 351 teams in Division I in three-point shooting percentage. Louisville makes just 30.6 percent of its threes. That’s not going to get it done against Michigan State, which will protect the paint first and seal off the drives to the rim.
On offense, Michigan State has an extremely confident player in Travis Trice. He was the best player on the court Friday night against Oklahoma, scoring 24 points on 7 of 14 shooting, 6 of 6 from the foul line, in 36 minutes. What’s just as impressive is that while Trice shot the ball extremely well, he committed only one turnover. If Trice plays this well on Sunday, Louisville is going to be in huge trouble.
The Louisville Cardinals Can Win Because…
They are playing better than at any other point in the season. Louisville dominated Northern Iowa last Sunday to advance to the Sweet 16, and the Cardinals actually played even better against North Carolina State than they did against Northern Iowa. Louisville hit 50 percent of its shots, and while Travis Trice of Michigan State might have had the best single game of anyone in the East Regional on Friday night, Louisville got the most balance, more than Michigan State did. Louisville got 21 points from Montrezl Harrell, and it got a 17-point, 14-rebound game from guard Terry Rozier, who was all over the court. Anton Gill came off the bench to score seven very important points late in the game when North Carolina State was making a run. Freshman Quentin Snider scored 14 points with no turnovers, a remarkably good scoreline for someone who hadn’t played a lot of minutes until late in February, when former guard Chris Jones got booted from the team. In deciding NCAA tournament picks we keep in mind that Louisville is effective on offense now, and that’s going to make Michigan State’s task on defense a lot harder than many expect.
Another pair of reasons to think Louisville will win is that Michigan State shoots free throws horribly. The Spartans were 9 of 16 on Friday against Oklahoma. Michigan State also shot the three-ball poorly against Oklahoma, making just 9 of 27 shots. Michigan State has to be more efficient. If it’s not, Louisville is playing well enough to take advantage on Sunday.
The Izzo-Pitino coaching matchup is worth the price of admission. Michigan State’s improvements are mostly on defense under Izzo, while Lousiville’s recent developments have occurred on offense under Pitino. Louisville seems to be a little more consistent right now, so while this game feels like a toss-up, the Cardinals appear to be the slightly better choice, especially as underdogs in NCAA Tournament odds.
NCAA Tournament Pick: Louisville +2.5 at Pinnacle