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These teams have identical records at 29-8 overall and 12-6 in their respective conferences, so it should be an even game, right? Not exactly. Michigan State will be favored for their seventh straight tourney game as -5.5 point favorites against Connecticut. The Spartans have not covered in three straight, while the Huskies are 5-1 ATS in their last six.
Connecticut has come a long way since almost losing their opening round game against St. Joseph's. They led most of the way in their last two games against Villanova and Iowa State and are getting production from players outside of Shabazz Napier. DeAndre Daniels was monumental in the win over the Cyclones as he did everything for the Huskies scoring 27 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. His length creates mismatch problems and that could be the case in this game.
Daniels will likely be matched up with Branden Dawson, who can guard a wide range of players. In this matchup, however, he'll be giving up three inches. While Dawson has the ability to muscle Daniels, that won't matter if Daniels hits jumpers like he was against ISU.
The backcourt battle pits two of the best guard combos in the nation. Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and even Terrence Samuel make UConn tick even though Daniels was the one to make headlines last game. Those three will be huge for the Huskies if they want to advance. The likely matchups will be Gary Harris on Napier and Keith Appling on Boatright, although the Spartans switch on the perimeter.
There's no question Tom Izzo will plan on hounding Napier all day to ensure that he can't get going. MSU is exceptional on the defensive end, especially on the edges. And if Napier drives to the hole, which he often does with ease, guys like Adreian Payne, Matt Costello and Dawson are going to be waiting in the paint for him. That was something Iowa State didn't have against Napier, a shot blocker.
As for the Spartans, the problem with them for opponents is that they can beat you from anywhere on the floor. Payne and Dawson are going to be tough guards down low because the Huskies don't really have much strength down there. And at times, they'll be forced to use Phillip Nolan and Amida Brimah on Payne, which won't work because of Payne's ability to shoot from the outside. Dawson is a similar player to Dustin Hogue of Iowa State, who scored 34 points in their Sweet 16 game.
Michigan State loves to run and that could play a big part in this game because Connecticut isn't great on transition defense. Fast breaks will play right into Gary Harris, who will be primed to break out after getting stopped for six points on five shots against Virginia. Connecticut played great on-ball defense against Iowa State, but will have a tougher matchup here.
MSU is a little deeper, but they really only used six guys against Virginia, but if foul trouble comes about, they have players that can come in and score like Travis Trice and Kenny Kaminski.
The Spartans have the edge in a lot of categories and if they play their game, that might be enough. Payne and Dawson should have success down low, which would then open up things for Harris and Denzel Valentine outside.
But you can't forget about the Huskies if Daniels has another solid outing and Napier can break open games and keep UConn within striking distance by himself. The problem will be on the defensive end for the Huskies, if Michigan State continues to shoot well, it might be out of reach.
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