Saturday, March 21, 2015
game preview: Michigan State
Date/Time: Sunday, March 22; 12:10
Record against the Spartans: 0-4
Last meeting: MSU 61, UVA 59; 3/28/14, New York, NY; NCAA Sweet Sixteen
Last game: UVA 79, Belmont 67 (3/20); MSU 70, UGA 63 (3/20)
UVA: 58.5 (#349)
MSU: 64.0 (#216)
UVA: 112.1 (#24)
MSU: 113.7 (#16)
UVA: 86.1 (#2)
MSU: 95.6 (#48)
UVA: .9544 (#5)
MSU: .8799 (#17)
PG: London Perrantes (6.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 4.7 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (14.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.4 apg)
SF: Evan Nolte (3.1 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 0.7 apg)
PF: Darion Atkins (7.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 0.7 apg)
PF: Anthony Gill (11.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 0.8 apg)
PG: Travis Trice (14.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 5.2 apg)
SG: Lourawls Nairn (2.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 2.5 apg)
SF: Denzel Valentine (14.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 4.4 apg)
PF: Branden Dawson (12.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 1.8 apg)
C: Gavin Schilling (5.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 0.4 apg)
The selection committee insists they don't take storylines into account when they fill out the bracket, and maybe they don't - they certainly have plenty to worry about without looking for transfer players who might get the chance to play against their old team. But the opening rounds for UVA have certainly not been lacking for interest.
UVA gets another shot at the team that bounced them from the Sweet Sixteen last year. On paper, Michigan State isn't as good as they were last year. In real life, MSU has a reputation as a tough out for a reason. And just going by KenPom rankings, they're more a high 5-seed than a 7-seed. They clamped down on Georgia in round 1; the Bulldogs only made one shot in three. Your reward for a top-2 seed is to open the tourney against some scrappy little upstart that you can probably fry like an egg; the real tourney begins now.
-- UVA on offense
Despite the great work against UGA, in almost all of their losses, MSU topped the point-per-possession mark. Their problem was occasionally letting bad teams score a bunch. Minnesota, Nebraska, even Texas Southern early in the season; MSU usually doesn't have much trouble scoring, but their defense can occasionally buckle on them. They generate good numbers, they just get a little inconsistent - a strange thing for a Tom Izzo team.
MSU is a little undersized. Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling play as traditional centers, and rarely (if ever) appear on the court at the same time; both are 6'9", though, giving up a few inches to Mike Tobey. That said, they're also heavy and solidly built, and can hold their ground just fine. Other than the very lightly-used Colby Wollenman (who checks in at 6'7") nobody else on the MSU depth chart is over 6'6". Branden Dawson is athletic and was a potential NBA draft entrant last year, but is only a 6'6" power forward. So is his second-string, freshman Marvin Clark. Finally, you've got 5'10", 170-pound shooting guard Lourawls Nairn, who'll draw 6'5" strong-as-an-ox Malcolm Brogdon, unless it's 6'0" Travis Trice instead.
So hopefully UVA will be able to put their size advantage to good use. MSU is tough to score on when they're playing good fundamental ball; Izzo, though, has bemoaned his team's inconsistency all year, including after the Georgia game when he called his team "interesting." MSU sometimes puts itself in foul trouble. Costello and Schilling are strong, but not all that quick, and are prone to fouling players driving to the hoop. They'll go for the block, and they get it pretty often, but they also sometimes miss and get a hack instead. The guy to watch out for is Dawson; he's got some leaps and an ability to get those blocks without fouling. He's a good answer to Justin Anderson in that regard.
Despite the inconsistency, you have to expect a grind. MSU is also capable of excellent defensive performances; Indiana is one team that found that out, as did Georgia. There are matchups where UVA will have the upper hand; failure to take advantage would be killer.
-- UVA on defense
The size advantage UVA has is different than what they had against Belmont, for one big reason: UVA was forced to go smallish against Belmont, because the whole team played outside the arc. Mike Tobey only played five minutes. MSU's bigs are never shooting threes (Marvin Clark being a possible exception, if you want to call him a big) and so Tobey and the rest of UVA's bigs can do what they're comfortable doing.
Clark will hoist them some, but there's really only three Spartans to care about from long range: Denzel Valentine, Travis Trice, and Bryn Forbes. All of them will fire away and all of them can hit with regularity. Limiting the three-bombing to the players that can actually hit them has helped make MSU a really efficient offensive team.
They're also really good inside the arc. Costello and Schilling kind of look like galoots, but they're strong players and know how to establish a presence. They do a lot of cleanup work, scoring on putbacks quite a bit. Schilling usually starts, but it's Costello, often going against opponent's second strings, who does the best work in most facets of the game.
Dawson uses his athleticism very well in getting to the rim, and off the bench, Bryn Forbes is a very versatile scorer. The most dangerous guy on the court, though, is Valentine. Valentine has always played with a little bit of an attitude, sometimes not a productive one. Now a junior, though, he's reined it in a bit and has a great deal more consistency in his game as a result. Valentine can score from anywhere. He prefers jump shots and doesn't go to the rim as much, but he's very comfortable shooting from wherever he is on the court.
The one big weakness of the Spartans: Foul shooting. Valentine is outstanding from the stripe, and Forbes is dependable. Trice, though, misses more than a guard should. Lourawls Nairn is a lousy shooter, especially for a guard; Costello is OK for a big, but Dawson is horrendous and Schilling is worse. This would be a great game to have really whistle-happy refs who call it as tight as possible; if it's a parade to the line, UVA's chances improve tremendously.
UVA has the advantage here. The Hoos play better defense and don't have an ugly, glaring weakness the way MSU does with the free throws. That said, games like this have a way of defying the on-paper analysis. Both teams are comfortable in close games, and this one probably will be. If there's one intangible on the side of UVA, it's this: Like Memphis last year, MSU won't have had much time to focus on scouting the pack-line defense, needing to worry about their first-round opponent a great deal more. But I'll frankly be damn good and surprised if this game is a blowout ilke that Memphis one.
Since I did such a damn good job predicting the Belmont score, let's hope this one's just as accurate.
Final score: UVA 61, MSU 59