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UConn looks to slow down Michigan State on Sunday
By: Robert Livingston - StatFox
Published: 3/30/2014  at  4:54:00 AM
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CONNECTICUT HUSKIES (29-8)

vs. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS (29-8)

NCAA Tournament - East Region Final (Elite Eight)
Madison Square Garden - New York, NY
Tip-off: Sunday, 2:15 p.m. ET
Line: Michigan State -5.5, Total: 139.5

Looking to reach its seventh Final Four in 16 seasons, Michigan State will need to take down No. 7 seed Connecticut on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.

With SU and ATS wins against Saint Joseph’s (in overtime), Villanova and Iowa State in the first three games of the tournament, the Huskies are now 5-1 ATS in their past six games. That improves their season-long mark to 20-15 ATS with an 8-6 ATS record against non-conference opponents. Despite some inconsistencies during AAC play, Connecticut has shown a penchant for beating top teams all season with wins against teams such as Florida, Villanova, Iowa State, Memphis (three times) and Cincinnati (twice). The Huskies are 9-1 SU and 5-5 ATS on neutral courts this season. The Spartans enter this game having won six straight SU, going 3-2-1 ATS in that span, but 0-2-1 ATS in the tournament in their wins against Delaware, Harvard and Virginia. They were favored by 2.5-points against top-seeded Virginia on Friday, but failed to cover in the 61-59 victory. Now at full strength—a rare occasion for this team this season—Michigan State is 21-14-1 ATS overall despite a 6-8-1 ATS mark against non-conference opponents. The club is 10-1 SU and 5-5-1 ATS on neutral courts. Both schools have positive betting trends for Sunday as the Huskies are 15-4 ATS as a neutral-court underdog of six points or less since 1997, while the Spartans are 17-9 ATS when playing only their second game in a week this season. These two teams last met on a neutral court in 2012, with Connecticut winning and covering 66-62 as eight-point underdogs. They last met in the NCAA Tournament in 2009 when MSU prevailed 82-73 in the Final Four in nearby Detroit. Sunday's game will be played in Manhattan, which is a mere two-hour drive from UConn's campus in Storrs, CT.

Can Michigan make a second consecutive berth in the Final Four? For the latest college basketball picks, check out The Platinum Sheet for all the StatFox Experts selections every week throughout the entire 2013-14 season. The StatFox Experts opened the NCAA Tournament with a sizzling 62% ATS mark (46-28-1) through the Round of 32, making them a stellar 60% ATS (322-218-17) in college basketball Best Bets this season. StatFox Brian is on an amazing Best Bets run of 33-9-2 (79% ATS) since Feb. 6 and 42-12-3 (78% ATS) since Jan. 17, to give him a robust 69% ATS (74-33-4) record in Best Bets for the season. StatFox Dave is a phenomenal 80% ATS (12-3) in Best Bets for the NCAA Tournament, making him 66% ATS (51-26-1) in Best Bets since Dec. 18 and 62% ATS (68-41-2) this season. StatFox Scott is a strong 64% ATS (9-5-1) in Best Bets for the NCAA Tournament, 66% ATS (23-12-3) since Feb. 16 and 59% ATS (63-44-5) for the season. StatFox Gary is 59% ATS (58-40) on Best Bets since Nov. 22 and 56% ATS (62-48-2) for the season.

Connecticut’s offense averages only 72.7 PPG (114th in Div. I) on 45.0% FG (132nd in nation), but is very accurate both from behind the arc (39.4% threes, 15th in Div. I) and at the foul line (76.9% FT, 6th in nation). The Huskies also bring a tenacious defense to the court each game, limiting opponents to 64.0 PPG (40th in Div. I) on 39.2% FG (13th in nation) and 33.1% threes. They also rank 14th in the nation in blocks with 5.9 BPG. PG Shabazz Napier (17.9 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 4.9 APG) leads the Huskies in all three major categories, stepping up during in the first three games of the tournament with 22.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG and 4.7 APG. He scored a game-high 25 points in last season's win against Michigan State, going 8-of-16 from the field. He's joined on the perimeter by SG Ryan Boatright (12.1 PPG, 3.4 APG) and ultra sharpshooter SF Niels Giffey (8.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG), who is hitting an incredible 51.4% threes this season. Down low, PF DeAndre Daniels (12.6 PPG, 5.7 RPG) is their top scorer, but he can also stretch defenses, hitting 44% threes. He dropped 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting against Iowa State on Friday night, adding 10 rebounds and two blocks. When he steps outside, 7-foot freshman C Amida Brimah (4.4 PPG, 3.1 RPG) can hit the glass and protect the hoop, pacing the team with 2.4 BPG in only 16.6 MPG.

Michigan State’s unselfish offense dishes out 16.9 APG (6th in Div. I), leading to a strong 76.1 PPG (49th in nation) on 47.6% FG (26th in Div. I) and 39.3% threes (17th in nation). Per usual, Tom Izzo’s defense is stingy, yielding 65.7 PPG (65th in Div. I) on 39.8% FG (23rd in nation) and 33.5% threes. The Spartans clearly have the rebounding edge in this contest with +5.1 RPG, which is superior to UConn's +0.5 RPG margin. Michigan State's star early in the NCAA Tournament has been senior PF Adreian Payne (16.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG), who put up a whopping 41 points in the team’s opening win against Delaware. The 6-foot-10 big man is a good shooter too (44% threes), but can also bruise down low with his 245-pound frame. When he came back down to earth against Harvard in the Round of 32, SF Branden Dawson (11.0 PPG, 8.3 RPG), who leads the team in rebounding, stepped up with a 26-point performance on 12-of-15 shooting. He followed that up with a team-high 24 points and 10 rebounds in the win against Virginia. MSU's leading scorer is SG Gary Harris (16.6 PPG), who is as athletic as they come, which shows on the defensive end where he averages 1.9 SPG. SG Travis Trice (7.5 PPG, 45% threes) joins him as a sharpshooter in the backcourt while SG Denzel Valentine (7.9 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 3.8 APG) makes up for his poor shooting with his passing and rebounding abilities. If this team makes the Final Four though, it may be because of PG Keith Appling (11.4 PPG, 4.5 APG). The senior must improve from his play in the first three games of the tournament, averaging 2.7 PPG on 33% shooting so far. He scored a team-high 17 points in last season's loss to the Huskies, while Dawson added 15 points and 10 rebounds to go along with five steals.

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