LSU was a popular team to get upset in the early NCAA Tournament rounds, but that prediction was made by a lot of people that ignored the talent on the cOurt. Even without head coach Will Wade, the Tigers still made the Sweet 16, though are underdogs against Michigan State. The Spartans opened as -6 point favorites at 5Dimes Sportsbook.
LSU may not have its coach, but its talent shined through in the early Games and now it will try and upend another Big Ten team. Of course, this team is still an underdog despite winning the SEC outright. The Tigers seem to play in a close Game no matter what, winning five of seven overtimes played. Even in the Tournament, they couldn’t hold onto big leads against Yale or Maryland, and needed a little Tremont Waters magic last Game. Even if LSU gets ahead in this Game, most fans won’t feel safe until the final buzzer sounds.
While it can be argued LSU has more talent the MSU, the Spartans have the better coach in Tom Izzo and they arguably play better together. They’ve won their last seven Games with six of those coming against Tournament teams. LSU matched fairly even with Maryland and that’s the situation for this Game. Michigan State easily handled Maryland earlier in the season, but that Game also came in East LAnsing.
The biggest advantage for the Tigers is surprisingly their offensive rebounding as they rank eighth in the country while the Spartans finished 12th in the Big Ten. If MSU can grab those defensive boards, it would take away a lot of extra scoring opportunities. That’s where the frontcOurt matchup comes in with LSU’s Naz Reid, Kavell Bigby-Williams and Emmitt Williams. The latter two are the bigger factors in the paint, but Reid is the future NBA player that stands at 6-foot-10 with the ability to knock down threes and take any defender off the dribble. The smaller Kenny Goins will likely start on him, but Xavier Tillman is probably the best bet. Tillman has the strength to deal with him down low, but also the athleticism to defend him on the perimeter. The x-factor for Michigan State has become Nick Ward, who now comes off the bench. He had his best performance last Game since his return from a broken hand with nine points and seven boards. His defense struggles at times, but when guys like Williams or Bigby-Williams are in the Game, he won’t be challenged much, and then in turn he’ll get fed the ball frequently on the block.
The backcOurt should be just as good of a matchup with Tremont Waters and Cassius Winston the ones that stir the pot. Waters is a little smaller, but his quickness doesn’t make that an issue and it’s something he can capitalize on against Winston. The difference between the two is that Winston almost always has the ball and is a little more efficient offensively. He sets everything up for the Spartans with 7.5 assists per Game, but also shooting 40 percent from three.
The other guards are just as important with defensive gurus Matt McQuaid and Aaron Henry against Javonte Smart, Skyler Mays and Marlon Taylor. None of the LSU guys shoot consistently from deep, which could be a problem since MSU is already great at defending the three. In fact, it may be more important for the LSU guards to limit McQuaid and Henry on the other end. McQuaid is 43.3% from three and you simply can’t allow him to get hot if you want to win, while Henry is the most athletic player on the Spartans and always a nuisance on the boards.
This may be the Game that not having Will Wade comes back to bite LSU because its defense now ranks last of the remaining 16 teams in terms of efficiency. The Tigers were 12th in the SEC in two-point defense, while the Spartans were first offensively in the Big Ten. That stat highlights being lazy on defense and allowing too many easy looks, especially since guys like Bigby-Williams and Reid are good at defending the rim. At some point playing lackadaisical on defense will come back to bite them and that could easily come against Winston and the Fourth-most efficient offense in the country.
Our Pick – Michigan State -5.5