It would be interesting to know how many times a 1-seed has ever been an underdog in a Sweet 16 matchup. That’s the case Friday night where Joe Harris and Virginia are getting two points against Tom Izzo’s Spartan warriors. The trendiest pick to win the NCAA Tournament coming into the Madness will lay the chalk and should cover in what may be one of the best games in the entire Tournament.
Tony Bennett’s team has had one of the more remarkable seasons in program history with talent that doesn’t reflect its 30-6 record. The secret is out on Virginia by now. The Cavs limit the number of possessions in the game and attack each one with a discipline that’s just more methodical than the other opponent’s. While this strategy was wildly successful in the regular season against most all teams UVA found itself up against, I’m not sure it’s an optimal approach to beating Michigan State.
The Spartans are finally playing like people thought they would all season when they began the season as the preseason #2 before quickly leaping Kentucky to become #1. Tom Izzo’s team can play just about any style with smart, talented guards and a frontline anchored by senior standout Adreian Payne. Payne’s versatility as a post player that can face the bucket and even take it out to the three-point arc where he has become a pretty deadly shooter makes him nearly unguardable for a single player in the Tournament. Fortunately for Virginia, the Cavs thrive off of team defense, but that should only be enough to keep this one relatively close.
At the end of the day, Michigan State is built pretty similarly to Virginia, except with better players and an equally as a great coach (which doesn’t often happen when you’re talking about Tony Bennett). The Spartans matchup extremely well with Virginia on the perimeter and might see some mismatches with the bigs. Expect Akil Mitchell to body Adreian Payne, but once Branden Dawson enters the game as the power forward and Michigan State goes a little smaller, Virginia will be forced to deviate from its normal two big-man lineup. Izzo will put Virginia out of its comfort zone and the Spartans will march on to the Elite Eight and, eventually, the Final Four.
Free Pick: Michigan State -2