Michigan State Spartans
Record: 29-8 (12-6 in Big Ten)
2nd Round: Defeated #13 Delaware 93-78
3rd Round: Defeated #12 Harvard 80-73
Sweet 16: Defeated #1 Virginia 61-59
The team that was picked to win the tournament by most college basketball analysts and our nation's President has found itself in the Elite Eight despite not playing their best ball of the season. After a two-point loss at Ohio State to end the regular season, the Spartans ran through Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Michigan on their way to a Big Ten Championship. Their three NCAA tournament wins have run their streak to six games, and are doing it with a team effort that features different guys stepping up every game. They rank 6th in the nation in assists per game with 17.1 which speaks to their balanced attack and belief in each other. In all other categories they are solid but not spectacular. They rank 55th in points per game at 76.2, 65th in points allowed per game at 65.7 and 31st in field goal percentage at 47.4% due to their solid low post options.
Game one of the Spartans tournament run they were led by an absurd performance by senior center Adreian Payne. He scored 41 points to go along with 8 rebounds in their victory over Delaware. In game two it was junior swingman Braden Dawson took the lead and scored 26 points on 12-15 shooting to go along with 9 rebounds in a Dustin Hogue like performance (a scary thought for Husky fans) as Michigan State was able to hold off a late comeback from the Harvard Crimson. In the Spartans Sweet 16 victory over Virginia, it was once again Dawson who led the way with 24 points and 10 rebounds, while Payne chipped in with 16 points and 5 rebounds. Now, on to the Spartan's top 6.
#14 Gary Harris, Senior, Guard (6-4, 210 pounds)
The leading scorer on this Spartans team is averaging 16.6 points per game. He is not terribly efficient from the field shooting 42.4%, and 34.8% from three. He is a very good foul shooter though at 80.7%. He's also the team's best lock-down defender making both the Big Ten first team, and the Big Ten all-defensive team. He should see plenty of time matched up against Shabazz Napier tomorrow.
#5 Adreian Payne, Senior, Center (6-10, 245 pounds)
The leading big man scoring 16.5 points per game presents a huge mismatch as he can also step behind the arc and knock down the three. He is shooting 43.6 from deep, 51 percent from the field and averages 7.2 rebounds per game. He made second team all-Big Ten and is coming off a 16 point, 5 rebound performance against the Cavaliers.
#22 Braden Dawson, Junior, Guard/Forward, (6-6, 225 pounds)
Dawson is scarily similar to Iowa State's Dustin Hogue who lit up the Huskies on Friday night. He is a junior, undersized player who prefers to play down low. He leads the team in rebounding at 8.3 a game and is shooting a highly efficient 61.6% from the floor. He has been the leading scorer in the Spartan's last two tournament games and the Huskies are going to have their work cut out for them.
#11 Keith Appling, Senior, Guard, (6-1, 185 pounds)
Appling has had an up and down season. It started with him being listed as a preseason first team all-Big Ten member, saw him score a respectable 11.4 points per game during the season, and right now, he is averaging just 2.7 points per game in the tournament. He's a senior faced with the potential of playing his last game in green and while, so it will be interesting to see if he tries to force the issue early in the game.
#45 Denzel Valentine, Sophomore, Guard (6-5, 225 pounds)
Valentine is the glue guy for this team. He is one of two Spartans to play in every game this year (they got hit hard with injuries) and averaged 7.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. He played a team high 35 minutes against the Cavaliers scoring 3 points to go along with 5 rebounds. He is also the guy that dances in the team circle before the game. In a dance battle between him and Shabazz I am taking Shabazz every time.
#20 Travis Trice, Junior, Guard, (6-0, 170 pounds)
The Spartan's 6th man does what the most pesky 6th men can do; drain threes. He scored 7.5 points per game this year shooting 44.3 percent from deep. The Huskies were able to contain the Cyclones 6th man three point threat Naz Long besides the three that cut the lead to four in the second half, and I expect Trice to receive similar attention tomorrow night. He has no relation to former Husky freshman phenom Jamaal Trice (seriously, look him up: he's part of a 2009 recruiting class that featured all 4 transferring at some point in their UConn career, and yet two have rings).
Michigan State is led by legend Tom Izzo. Izzo is 467-186 and has been to six final fours (including 2009 when they beat the Huskies without Jerome Dyson who was out with a torn ACL, and basically playing a home game) and has one championship back in the 1999-2000 season on a team led by Mateen Cleaves. He is 6-1 all time in the Elite Eight. In today's press conference he said that his close friend Jim Calhoun told him that he was going to try to get Kevin Ollie to become the Huskies' head coach a year before it came to fruition. Today, we get to see them square off.