Thursday, March 27, 2014
game preview: Michigan State
Date/Time: Friday, March 28; 9:57
Record against the Spartans: 0-3
Last meeting: MSU 82, UVA 75; 12/4/02, East Lansing
Last game: UVA 78, Memphis 60 (3/23); MSU 80, Harvard 73 (3/23)
UVA: 61.0 (#346)
MSU: 66.0 (#189)
UVA: 114.6 (#20)
MSU: 117.9 (#9)
UVA: 89.8 (#5)
MSU: 96.7 (#41)
UVA: .9430 (#4)
MSU: .9072 (#8)
PG: London Perrantes (5.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 3.8 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (12.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.7 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (11.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.3 apg)
PF: Akil Mitchell (6.9 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.2 apg)
C: Mike Tobey (6.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.3 apg)
PG: Keith Appling (11.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 4.6 apg)
SG: Gary Harris (16.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.7 apg)
SF: Denzel Valentine (8.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.9 apg)
PF: Branden Dawson (11.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.7 apg)
C: Adreian Payne (16.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.2 apg)
You know the games are getting big when they have funny non-zero numbers at the end of the game times. Give everyone generic jerseys and this is arguably the most compelling matchup of the whole Sweet 16. I love the storylines. You've got possibly the most hyped-up #4 seed in history with a ton of talent that can score a lot of different ways - but a team that's got a strong element of enigma due to injuries and inconsistent play during the season. That team is going up against the most disrespected #1 seed in history, who plays suffocating defense and is shattering preconceived notions, game by blowout game. And it's one of two games featuring major-conference tourney champs. You can have Louisville-Kentucky.
UVA and MSU played such a memorable game last time they met that I completely forgot it wasn't even the last time they met. I wanted to make a joke about picking up where they left off in Richmond, but it turns out they did the following year. Todd Billet and Devin Smith scored 28 and 24 points, respectively, but UVA couldn't overcome 10/28 shooting from the rest of the team as well as 26 fouls and 19 turnovers, and lost by 7. Interestingly, the preview on the official site claims that all three games between these teams have been played in East Lansing, by which I suppose they mean all three completed games.
No need, of course, to harp about what's at stake. Survive and advance.
-- UVA on offense
Challenges abound. One of MSU's keys to success on defense is Branden Dawson, a sneaky good defender who looks like a matchup problem for the Spartans due to his size, but might be the best overall defender on the team. As a power forward, Dawson is hardly any bigger than our shooting guard, but he can get blocks and steals equally and is rarely in foul trouble. Adreian Payne tends to get the attention, and both he and Dawson were hurt this year (you can't make this stuff up: Dawson punched a table during team film study and broke his hand) but MSU's losses this year correlated much more closely to Dawson's absence than Payne's. They kept winning when Payne got hurt; they started losing when Dawson did, and lost only one game since Dawson's return to the starting lineup.
Also a challenge: Gary Harris, one of the best on-ball defenders in the Big Ten. Harris is a projected lottery pick for a reason (he's kinda quick), and his assignment will be Malcolm Brogdon. It's likely Brogdon's ability to create off the dribble will be curtailed, and the screens that UVA uses will be of even more importance to get Brogdon some room.
One of the enigma factors to MSU is their fouling, however. Individually most of these guys actually have pretty good fouls-per-40 rates. Delaware and Harvard, their first two tourney opponents, shot a ton of free throws. Payne is prone to fits of hacktion, and Harris managed to foul out against Delaware despite being one of the best on the team (and one of the better players in the country) at staying out of foul trouble. Denzel Valentine is an enigma even to Spartan fans, and part of his head-scratching repertoire is, of course, inexplicable fouls. This is all about a team in the Big Ten, mind you, a league that operates just this side of call-your-own-foul playground rules.
The other noticeable weak(ish) point in the Sparty defense is three-pointers. They're not egregiously bad at defending them, but they did allow the second-worst 3-point shooting percentage in Big Ten play. Teams generally do prefer to try their luck from deep, and in most of MSU's losses, the opponent hit on 40% or better. This results in a very large proportion of points scored on their defense being from behind either the charity stripe or the arc. They're aggressive down low, though, and teams have a tough time with a standard two.
The strategy, therefore, might be to try and take advantage of one or the other of these weaknesses, but they're both capricious ideas. Your shot can abandon you at any time, and MSU is very capable of defending without fouling. This ought to be a close game anyway, and the key might be, rather than hitting a bunch of threes, simply hitting timely ones.
-- UVA on defense
Plainly, the marquee matchup of the game is Adreian Payne and Akil Mitchell. Here's the good news for UVA fans: Mitchell has shut down Jabari Parker and T.J. Warren, and there isn't a post defender in the Big Ten like him.
Payne is a different animal, of course. Both he and Parker have big-man quicks and can pop three-pointers, but Payne doesn't have Parker's dribble skills and won't hurt you with pull-up jumpers the way Parker can. Instead, he's bigger and stronger, with a better array of post moves, and probably a better feet-set shooter. This might be where the problem in this matchup lies for UVA - Parker couldn't shoot over Mitchell (as was ably demonstrated early in the ACC title game) but Payne is 6'10" and more likely to, and may well start the game testing Mitchell with some straight-up bulldog moves in the post to see if he can win the matchup that way.
This is also a very dangerous team from deep. Among the best in the country. The whole starting lineup, except for Dawson, will not only shoot, but make, as will bench sharpshooters Travis Trice and Kenny Kaminski. Make no mistake - this team can get hot from deep. Among regulars, the worst three-point shooting percentage is Gary Harris's .352. They'll tell you that point guard Keith Appling's wrist is still bothering him, as it has all season, which is bull; Appling has shot .571 from deep in five games of tournament play and that's including 0-for-2 against Harvard.
Plenty of other ways MSU can score, of course. Harris can create, and Dawson's a very athletic player and over a 60% shooter. Appling is a very steady senior PG and runs the show very well, not to mention adding some very good secondary scoring. Not for nothing is UVA's defense as good as it is, though, and the Big Ten is not loaded with top-notch D's. Only two of its 12 teams are in KenPom's top 25; compare that to five ACC teams with another just a smidge outside. UVA has the tools to handle the Spartan attack - not shut it down entirely, but certainly show them a look they haven't seen. The one that'll keep you up tonight is that three-point shooting.
Undeniably, this MSU team has talent - in fact, it's likely the most talented team UVA has seen this year outside of maybe Duke, and I'm not sure about Duke. Injuries might've kept them from hitting their potential, but so has just plain inconsistency. Let's not forget: everyone's favorite tourney pick was losing to Harvard in the second half, and the Crimson - coached by a coach who Tom Izzo used to dominate when that coach had much better talent than he has now - came close to pulling that one off.
MSU is a bad matchup for the Hoos in a couple ways, particularly the three-point shooting. They're a deeper opponent than we're used to seeing, and Tom Izzo is a tournament regular while UVA is making a whole season out of the phrase "not since". But UVA is also a bad matchup for inconsistent teams. Time to shock the world.
Final score: UVA 59, MSU 56