The NCAA Tournament is only four days in, and 36 teams have already packed their bags and are heading home. Eight more teams will make an exit on Saturday, and eight teams will also punch their ticket to the Sweet 16.
The 2014 NCAA Eastern Bracket looks rather ordinary at first glance. Teams like Memphis, UCONN, and Villanova have all had several appearances in the round of 32. Even Virginia and UNC have had their share of success. Michigan State is a part of this bracket too. They were expecting to play the Cincinnati Bearcats on Saturday for a chance to move on. However, the Harvard Crimson spoiled the party on Thursday and upset Cincinnati. Now, coming off their second ever NCAA Tournament win, as well as second in two years, Harvard looks to send the Spartans backing and clinch their first ever Sweet 16 birth.
On paper, the Crimson might not seem very intimidating. They play in a league that rarely sees any March Madness success. Cornell was the last Ivy League team to make it to the Sweet 16 and that was four years ago. Harvard has a solid squad that has come in to the 2014 Tournament with building confidence. The Crimson may not take a lot of shots on offense, but they are very efficient, especially from behind the three-point line. They shoot better than 50 percent from the floor, which helps them to overcome their lack of rebounding. Harvard plays very smart on offense, and draws a large number of fouls, converting on the line with consistency and making opponents pay.
Defense is not a weak spot for the boys from the Ivy League. Their smaller statures make them very weak at rebounding on both sides of the ball, but defensively the Crimson make up for it in other ways. They allow a mere 60 points per game, good enough to rank them thirteenth in the country in scoring defense.
The Michigan State Spartans are not strangers to the Round of 32. They have won a berth in to the NCAA Tournament 27 times, and have a 57-26 record all time in the big dance. The Spartans are riding a strong wave of momentum that started with a Big 10 Tournament Championship. They dismantled cross-state rival Michigan 69-55 on Sunday, and carried that momentum in to their opening round matchup. They demonstrated how lethal they are on offense Thursday when they blew out Delaware 93-78. Michigan State is not afraid to shoot the ball, scoring often on second chance opportunities. They will hold a definite size advantage against the Crimson, and will be sure to press the ball inside early and often.
The one weakness the Spartans have on offense is turning the ball over. At times, they get careless with the ball, allowing opponents to hang around late in games because of sloppy play. Harvard has a knack for forcing turnovers, and if they can duplicate the success they enjoyed during the season, the Crimson could make Michigan State have to work hard to get past the Ivy League Champs.
Harvard does not possess the pedigree or the experience that the Spartans do. That being said, Michigan State could play cocky and loose early, making stupid mistakes that the Crimson can definitely capitalize on. If the game is close going in to the last few minutes, Harvard stands a real shot of pulling off another upset. Look for Harvard to hang around longer than they should because of MSU’s inability to put teams away, and squeak out their first birth to the Sweet 16 with a 67-63 victory.
Commentary by Chris Chisam