Monday, March 18, 2013

Does Michigan or MSU have the tougher road to the Final Four?

Now that we have all had a day to chew on the NCAA Tournament field, it is time to start really breaking it down.

I think there isn’t much debate that Michigan State has a tough draw. The Midwest region looks to be the toughest of the four regions. What the Spartans have in their favor is that they play their first two games at the Palace, and then would have to go to Indianapolis for the regional final four.
Valparaiso poses an interesting opening challenge for the Spartans. Valpo is ranked 59th in the RPI but was 0-2 against teams in the top 50 of the RPI, falling to Saint Louis and New Mexico, both by 13 points. Valpo averages an impressive 71.7 points per game, but struggles in the rebounding department, ranking 248th in the nation at 32.9 per game.
Should MSU get past Valpo, it will likely encounter Memphis in the round of 32. The Tigers have an impressive resume, winning 30 games and sitting 14th in the RPI. Memphis went 9-4 against the RPI top 100, but 0-2 against the top 25 in the RPI. The Tigers have an up-tempo offense that could give the Spartans problems, and they also battle in the paint, ranking 39th in the nation in rebounding.
I think MSU can win both games in Detroit, partly due to the home-crowd support. The real test comes in the second weekend with the potential of having to beat Duke and Louisville to get to the Final Four. Michigan State certainly can beat both teams, but the Spartans will have to come out and play with the intensity it had when it hosted Michigan. I don’t count out Tom Izzo in the NCAA Tournament, but a Final Four appearance doesn’t seem in the cards to me.

Michigan faces an intriguing opponent in its first game, as the Wolverines play Summit League champion, South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits sit 63rd in the RPI rankings and were 4-4 against RPI top 100 teams, including a 70-65 win over New Mexico. SDSU averages 73.9 points per game and is led by one of the top players in the country, Nate Wolters, who averages 22.7 points per game. I think Michigan is okay in this game because the Wolverines have the ability to score with most teams. The Jackrabbits don’t rely on overwhelming defense and physical play to win games, which is what gives Michigan the most trouble.
The real intriguing game comes in the Round of 32 as Michigan will be matched up with VCU or Akron. VCU is the expected opponent as the No. 5 seed. The Rams are 24th in the RPI and come out of the very-competitive Atlantic 10 conference. VCU has experience of getting to the Final Four under head coach Shaka Smart. The Rams were 12-8 against top 100 RPI teams and 3-3 against Top 25 RPI teams. VCU plays a very aggressive style of basketball, averaging 78 points per game and 11.8 steals per game. The Rams force just under 20 turnovers a game for their opponents. I do think this is a matchup that could be a problem for many teams, but it should be something Michigan can handle. Trey Burke handles the ball well most games and, if Michigan can break the press of VCU, it will get a lot of high-percentage shots.
Like MSU, Michigan has the luxury of playing its first two games at the Palace, which should help settle the nerves of postseason play. I do think Michigan makes it to the second weekend of the tournament, but I see the Wolverines have trouble beating Kansas in the regional semifinal, especially against a pro-Kansas crowd in Dallas. Michigan has the talent to compete with anyone, but we haven’t seen that total team performance on the road in a big game. If Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III are able to step up, it could be a very successful tournament run for Michigan.

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