(4) Michigan State Spartans 29-8 (12-6 in Big 10 play)
KenPom: 8 (7 on offense, 34 on defense)
It all starts on the defensive end, and it all starts with Shabazz Napier. Connecticut's leader was remarkable in the opening minutes of Friday night's game against Iowa State. He begun the game 4 for 4 from 3 point land giving UConn an early 8 point lead. Iowa State cut it the defect to 4 with 2 minutes to go in the game before Niels Giffey hit a dagger 3, but that was the only time UConn was really threatened. After hearing so much about this high-powered Iowa State offense all week, UConn held the Cyclones to right around 26% shooting in the first half with intelligent and high-pressure man to man defense. In the second half, it was DeAndre Daniels who closed the game by looking as NBA ready as he has ever looked. He scored from everywhere on the court, had a few highlight-reel blocks, and did a fantastic job on the boards, scoring 27 points (19 in the 2nd half) and hauled in 10 boards. Ryan Boatright, Niels Giffey, and the freshmen Terrance Samuel and Amida Brimah all gave significant contributions to the win providing the supporting cast needed to make a Final Four.
Up next is the Michigan State Spartans, who have a quartet of stars and is possibly the favorite to win the National Championship, at least according to the analysts at ESPN. MSU is experienced, talented, and very deep. Their defense is significantly better than Iowa State's, so don't expect this game to be too high scoring. They have two talented guards in Keith Appling (11.4 ppg) and leading scorer Gary Harris (16.6 ppg), both of whom were in foul trouble last night against Virgina, the top seed in the East. Lasan Kromah should see a little time on Harris, but look for Napier and Boatright to defend them for most of the game. We matchup very well with their backcourt and I feel UConn has the advantage there, well because we have Shabazz, and you don't.
The 2 players that are the most worrisome on the Spartans are their front court duo of 6'6 Branden Dawson and 6'10 Adreian Payne. Both are a little to quick for our centers like Brimah and Phil Nolan to guard, so look for Giffey and Daniels to matchup with the two. Our pair of do-it-all stretch fours have played fantastic defense this tournament and have rebounded the ball with excellent efficiency, but they have not faced the talent boasted by the Spatans' duo. Dawson carried MSU to a victory against Virginia with 24 points and 10 rebounds while Payne scored a career high 41 points in just 24 minutes in their second round game against Delaware. Payne is a fantastic 3 point shooter and is big enough to establish himself inside, and if UConn wants to contain his production, they are going to need to contest all of his shots and be all-hands-on-deck when rebounding the ball on the defensive side of the court. Dawson has a similar playing style to Iowa State's Dustin Hogue, who went off for 34 points last night. He is a great rebounder and can play both facing up and with his back to the basket. The Huskies' front court is going to have its hands full but the emergence of Amida Brimah as a rim protector could be an X-factor as it has been all year against MSU.
In what will undoubtedly be UConn's toughest matchup of the NCAA tournament thus far, Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans will look to reach their first Final Four in since 2009 where they were runners up but beat UConn in the National Semifinal in Detroit. This time, the Huskies have the home-court advantage in New York. Last night right around 14,000 UConn fans and alumni took over the Garden and from Niels Giffey's opening bucket to the 15 straight made-free throws by the Huskies in the final minutes, Husky Nation showed the country what this team means to us, and this team showed Husky Nation if you believe in each other, anything is possible. Kevin Ollie has continued the tradition of brotherhood, loyalty, and family that Jim Calhoun instilled at UConn and the players have bought in with passion and focus. This team has immense amounts of momentum and there's not a doubt in my mind that they are capable of pulling the upset.
"If we got UConn on our chests, can't nobody stop us," -Kevin Ollie
UConn 67 Michigan State 66