Monday, March 25, 2013

Can MSU and/or Michigan make the Final Four?

We are into the second week of the NCAA tournament and both Michigan and Michigan State are still alive.
Both the Spartans and Wolverines had an impressive weekend at The Palace of Auburn Hills, as each team won both their contests by double digits. While there were a handful of teams that looked impressive this weekend, MSU and U-M are right up there with anyone in the tournament in terms of most impressive weekend.
Now things get a little tougher.
This weekend is what separates the great programs from the good. Michigan and MSU fans should feel good about their programs reaching the Sweet 16 this season. It isn’t an easy task. Expectations for both programs at different times this season were greater than a Sweet 16, but when you look at some of the teams that failed to reach the second weekend of the NCAA tournament, it is an impressive accomplishment.
But, programs are defined on Final Fours. Sure, everyone wants to win the national championship, but reaching a Final Four is often times how programs are defined.
So what is it going to take for MSU and Michigan to win twice this upcoming week?
Michigan State has the toughest road of the two teams. The Spartans start with Duke, arguably the top college basketball program in the country when you look at accomplishments over the last 20 years.
Beating Duke will be hard enough, but if MSU wins, it is possibly looking at a matchup with Louisville, the top overall seed and team that took the Spartans out of last year’s tournament.
MSU will need to be at its best this weekend. Anything less will result in a loss. The Spartans have the horses to win the Midwest region, but we haven’t quite see the team all click at the same time. Keith Appling hasn’t been his best lately, but Gary Harris had a strong weekend. Derrick Nix looked as good as he has all season, but Adreian Payne has been either great or awful. Branden Dawson still looks lost with the basketball on offense, but has played great defense.
When Payne and Nix are clicking in the paint and dominating the glass, the Spartans seem unbeatable. It seems that when Harris is off, Appling is on. If both can find their stroke at the same time, MSU will be just fine. Dawson may never get his shot and finishing around the basket down, but his defense won’t take a step back. His ability to defend all over the floor will be very important against Duke.
Michigan State will also have to make a commitment to defending the perimeter. Duke can light opponents up from 3-point land, so MSU will have to make sure to not get caught trying to trap in the paint.
When it comes to Michigan, the Wolverines have appeared to gotten their swagger back. That was something that was certainly missing from Michigan toward the end of the Big Ten season. The Wolverines didn’t look confident and didn’t play confident. That changed at The Palace.
Tim Hardaway Jr. and Mitch McGary looked as good as they have all season, but a plus for Michigan is that Trey Burke looked about as bad as he has all season. I would expect Burke to have a much better weekend in Dallas, which will come in handy if Hardaway, McGary or Glenn Robinson III aren’t hitting their shots.
Michigan faces an interesting opponent in Kansas. The Jayhawks haven’t looked too good in their two games and have struggled on offense. They had 39 turnovers combined against Western Kentucky and North Carolina. Kansas also shot 5 for 20 from 3-point land in the two games. Despite the offensive struggles, Kansas will pose a defensive challenge to Michigan. Center Jeff Withey has been a force in the paint, averaging 3.9 blocks per game. His long wingspan allows him to get the high number of blocks and alter a lot of shots in the paint. Michigan will have issues trying to attack the paint if Withey is standing there.
Michigan proved on Saturday that it can certainly beat anyone in the country when it gets out in transition and plays downhill. I would expect coaches like Bill Self and Florida’s Billy Donovan look to slow down the Wolverines and force them into becoming a half-court offense. Teams will look to “ugly it up” against Michigan and it will be up to the Wolverines to hit shots, especially from the perimeter.
Can both Michigan and MSU reach the Final Four? Absolutely. Will they? I don’t think so. But, that is just my opinion. What are your thoughts?

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