The Michigan State Spartans begin their quest to prove President Barack Obama right and stomp their way to a title as a much-ballyhooed No. 4 seed as they square off against the No. 13 seed Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens on Thursday at 4:40 ET at Spokane Arena in Washington. The Spartans have become a popular Final Four pick as they have peaked at the right time and finally gotten healthy, whereas Delaware will be seeking its first NCAA tournament victory ever.
The Fightin’ Blue Hens sport a very powerful offense that led them to both regular season and conference tournament titles in the Colonial. They have the nation’s highest scoring trio of players with Devon Saddler, Davon Usher and Jarvis Threatt all averaging over 18 points. However, they are flat out awful on defense and have little success forcing turnovers. Michigan State plays a different brand of basketball with an extremely efficient offense accompanying a stalwart defensive effort on a nightly basis.
Michigan State found themselves ranked No. 1 for a good month early in the season before injuries took their tole on seniors Adreian Payne and Keith Appling as well as junior forward Branden Dawson. All are back and ready to go, as evidenced by the Spartans’ run through the Big Ten tourney. Any fans who intended on blindly choosing Delaware as an easy Cinderella candidate in the NCAA’s now have to think long and hard about making such a decision.
Keys for Delaware to Win: It may sound a bit cliche, but Delaware cannot allow themselves to be in awe of the moment. Indications so far are that that may be a small issue. ”In watching them, they just keep getting better and better,” said Fightin’ Blue Hens’ head coach Monte Ross according to Yahoo! Sports. ”So I think I’m just going to do myself a service and stop watching them.” Delaware has played tough games this season and taken them down to the wire against Ohio State, Villanova, North Dakota State and Notre Dame. Delaware has the scoring ability to make this a high-octane affair. They must come out firing from the opening tip and keep in mind that all the pressure is on Michigan State. Tom Izzo wants to get back to the Final Four and although he undoubtedly has his boys ready for this game, Delaware knows they can raise some eyebrows if they can get out to a hot start and make a concerted effort on the boards. Although Delaware is led primarily by its three dynamic guards, the most important guy on the court for them is arguably Carl Baptiste, the 6’9″ forward who will see plenty of matchups on Adreian Payne. Payne is the x-factor that sets MSU apart and makes them a national title threat and Delaware has not seen a player of his size and skill-set all year, so they will definitely need a strong game from Baptiste.
Keys for Michigan State to Win: Sparty is sixth in the nation in assists at just over 17 per game. Seniors Keith Appling and Adreian Payne have to step up and make sure this team does not fall victim to its own hype and does not overlook a team that can light up the scoreboard. Michigan State also needs to move the ball around and make sure everyone is involved now that the whole team is healthy for the first time in a while. Leading scorer Gary Harris has been less of a factor with the revamped lineup, and Izzo must make sure Harris still eats. He is going up against three volume scorers on Delaware and this game could end up being a little bit higher-scoring than Sparty wants, so if that happens they must rely on Harris. Michigan State can win this game if they are able to control the glass against a smaller Blue Hens team. Since Payne and Dawson have been back, MSU has seen a revitalized effort on the boards and can make that a true deciding factor in this game.
Prediction: Do not be surprised if Delaware comes out blazing and puts a little scare into Michigan State, but it is too hard to bet against Tom Izzo in the NCAA tournament. They have reached the Sweet Sixteen in five of the past six seasons and Izzo does not want Payne and Appling and co. to become his first senior class to not reach a Final Four. They took their licks in Big Ten play, but are beginning to peak at the right time following wins over Wisconsin and Michigan in the conference tournament. Look for Delaware to rack up some points in their first NCAA bid ever, but Michigan State will strap up in the second half and prevent the game from slipping away.
Commentary by Justin Hussong