It hasn’t been as “mad” as many March Madness NCAA tournaments of the past, but the 2015 tournament has produced one erratic East Region with the #4 seed the Louisville Cardinals facing the #7 seeded Michigan State Spartans in an Elite Eight matchup.
This is a clash between two well-established programs coached by two of college basketball’s best in Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo. Both coaches have readily admitted during the course of the season that this isn’t there best group, talent wise, but during the course of the year, both teams have worked out how they can be successful and it has resulted in impressive runs when it counts.
Louisville are pursuing a third Final Four appearance in four years. So far in this tournament, in particular in their wins over North Carolina State and Northern Iowa, the Cardinals have exhibited the type of defensive basketball familiar to a Pitino team.
Sophomore guard Terry Rozier leads this offense. He had 25 points, five rebounds and seven assists against the Panthers and he then followed that up with 17 points, 14 rebounds and four assists. Rozier has really come into his own during the season at both ends of the floor. He has some strong inside support from versatile Montrezl Harrell, who was dominant against the Wolfpack scoring 24 points and showing his post-game and shooting ability.
Maybe Louisville have made a habit of reaching the Final Four of late, but Michigan State and Izzo have made a habit of playing their best basketball in the NCAA tournament. It happened again this year. The Spartans played up and down basketball for much of the season, but they battled hard and almost stole the Big Ten championship from Wisconsin. Now Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson (with lots of support from a bench used heavily by Izzo) are playing the sort of basketball that actually makes them a favourite in this game.
It starts at guard where senior Trice is playing arguably the best basketball of his impressive college basketball career. He came through with 24 points against #3 seed Oklahoma, leading a strong second half display, and he knocked down 23 points against Virginia.
Meanwhile, Dawson is the sort of versatile player that Izzo has come to love. He is somewhat reminiscent of a poor man’s Draymond Green and he plays a similar role for this team bringing energy and grabbing more rebounds than perhaps he should.
Betting Preview: Louisville (+2.5) vs. Michigan State
The Spartans have beaten two very good teams to reach this stage. Make no mistake that both the Sooners and the Cavaliers were legitimate Final Four contenders. Louisville haven’t faced quite that level of that competition, though that’s not to under-estimate either NC State or Northern Iowa. This will be a scrappy game played between two good teams and battled out between two great coaches, but we’ll just favour the team that has a bit more experience and has been playing tough basketball. The Spartans have to control this game a little more than they did against Oklahoma, because the Cardinals will not let them back in and Michigan State does not shoot free throws well.
The Pick: Michigan State (-2.5) (www.betonline.ag)
Writer’s Record Against The Spread: 36-30