Pick – Analysis
This is a rematch of last year’s Sweet 16 Game that featured No. 4 seed Michigan State beating No. 1 seed Virginia 61-59. A few of those players are gone, but the molding of each team remains.
The Spartans won their first Game somewhat comfortably against Georgia, despite a mini-collapse at the end of the Game. They continued their improved play at the end of the regular season and look like a real challenge for Virginia.
The Cavaliers battled a surprising Belmont team, but came out in the end with the help of 16 more made free throws. The best news for them was the production of Justin Anderson, who finished with 15 points and a made three-pointer, his first trey since returning from a broken finger.
Gone from these teams are guys like Adreian Payne and Gary Harris for MSU, as well as Joe Harris from Virginia. Even without Harris, some would say that Virginia is a better team from a year ago with the way Anderson played before his injury.
In last year’s matchup, Branden Dawson was the difference maker in the Game, going for 24 points and 10 rebounds. While Virginia had some size advantage, the athleticism of Dawson was too much for the Cavaliers.
The difference for Michigan State this year is that they won’t have Payne to open up the floor. against better defensive teams that can keep guys like Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine in check, the Spartans usually struggle on the offensive end. If that’s the case, it will have to be Dawson once again to lead Michigan State in his senior season.
The Spartans will try and run with Tum Tum Nairn as much as possible, but Virginia is one of the best defensive teams in the country and should be able to prevent that for the most part. Valentine will likely get the task of Justin Anderson and that could be the Game’s most important matchup. Valentine has guarded guys like D’Angelo Russell and Sam Dekker all season long, so he’ll be up for the task. But if Anderson is hitting his shot, not many can stop him.
The forward combination of Darion Atkins, Anthony Gill and Evan Nolte will play an important role for Virginia, not as much on the offensive end, but definitely on the defensive glass. The Spartans are a great offensive rebounding team, and Virginia is one of the best at not allowing them.
If Virginia can limit what Trice and Valentine are able to do, that immediately becomes a problem for Michigan State. The Cavaliers will put a lot of focus into stopping Dawson, so it may come down to what guys like Matt Costello, Marvin Clark and shooter Bryn Forbes can do off the bench. Those guys have been vital to what the Spartans have done in their last few wins.
MSU is playing its best basketball of the season, while Virginia is still trying to find its way back after a couple late-season losses. If Anderson and the Cavs return to mid-season form, it will be hard for the Spartans to grab a win. But there’s no doubt this Game will be decided in the final minutes, much like it was a season ago. If that’s the case, the advantage goes to the better free-throw shooting team, Virginia.