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How did Virginia feel as the No. 1 seed that everyone, including the President, was picking to get surpassed on Michigan State's way to the championship game? No one was even considering the ACC regular season and tournament champs. Now the Cavaliers get to show everyone just how wrong those brackets are. Vegas still has its doubts though, as the Spartans are -2 point favorites.
Like many teams in their first game, Virginia didn't look great, having trouble against Costal Carolina. There's nothing much to look into from that game as they completely handled Memphis in their next one. The Cavaliers have won 18 of their last 19 games with the lone loss coming in overtime at Maryland, in a game that didn't really change anything for Virginia. This team is far from a pushover.
Michigan State is in a different situation, but they have won five straight postseason games. The Spartans have looked dominant at times in the NCAA tourney, but allowing 78 points to Delaware and allowing Harvard to take a lead on them late in the game aren't exactly championship stats. The best thing is that their offense is clicking, which is going to be vital against one of the best defensive teams in the country.
The main stat to look at in this matchup is transition points. Michigan State loves to run and is great at doing it. They push as much as possible even after made baskets if the opportunity presents itself. On the other end, Virginia has one of the best transition defenses in the country, allowing just 7.4 such points per game. MSU averages a ridiculous 18.9 transition points per game. It's likely the number will fall somewhere in the middle, but if one team can succeed in that area, they'll have the edge the entire game.
The Spartans probably have the better players from top to bottom in terms of talent, but that doesn't mean they have the better team. Virginia got where they are because they gel extremely well together.
The Cavs have knockdown shooters in Joe Harris, Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes, but also multiple guys to work in the paint in Akil Mitchell, Mike Tobey and Anthony Gill. Justin Anderson and Gill come off the bench and are two of Virginia's better scorers. Their offensive stats don't look all that great, but they allow a nation-best 55.5 points per game. MSU just threw down 80 points on a team that allows 61 PPG. Will Virginia do a better job? And if they don't, will they be able to keep up on the offensive end?
This is a team that hasn't allowed more than 67 points since a loss at Duke back in January when they lost 69-65. They held Duke to 63 in the next matchup and held others like North Carolina to 61 points. Maybe the question to ask is if MSU can hold down Virginia.
Tom Izzo's teams are usually known for defense, but this team isn't all that great on that end and allow opponents to get to the foul line way too often. Harvard got there 30 times and that could be something that breaks this team down. But who's going to draw the fouls for Virginia? That task falls to the backcourt of Brogdon, Perrantes and Harris.
Adreian Payne is the main focal point for Michigan State, but Virginia does have the muscle down low to deal with him, most notably with Akil Mitchell, although when he steps out for a three-pointer, that may be different. Branden Dawson will be the most athletic player on the court and could once again be a difference maker after notching 26 points and nine rebounds last game. Then you still have their scoring leader Gary Harris, who can go off at any time and point guard Keith Appling, although he still hasn't figured out his offense. Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice round up the rest of the squad, but you can't ignore either player.
If Virginia held this team to 60 points, it would be extremely impressive. It's going to take one of the Cavaliers' best efforts all season to pull out this win, or a bad a shooting day from the Spartans would work as well.
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