MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS (19-14)
vs. MIAMI HURRICANES (21-11)
First Round – BOK Center – Tulsa, OK
Tip-off: Friday, 9:20 pm ET
Line: Miami -2.5, Total: 125.5
#8 seed Miami battles #9 seed Michigan State Friday night in a Midwest Regional matchup that figures to be very competitive.
It’s March and despite the shock of the Spartans getting bounced from the NCAA Tournament last year as a #2 seed to Middle Tennessee St., this is the time of year where it’s hard to bet your hard-earned money against Tom Izzo. Still, this is not a vintage Michigan State team. They come into Friday’s matchup at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma with a pedestrian 19-14 record (10-8 in the Big Ten), while Miami went 21-11 (10-8 in the ACC). The Spartans come in having lost three of their last four games, including a 63-58 defeat in the Big 10 Tournament to Minnesota. The Spartans are 5-5 in their last 10 outings (6-4 ATS). Their season record ATS is 17-15. Michigan State’s record at neutral sites is 3-5 (3-5 ATS). The Spartans challenged themselves outside of the Big Ten, like they usually do, playing powerhouses Arizona, Kentucky, Baylor and Duke, but losing all four games and only covering against the Blue Devils. Their best win in the non-conference was against Wichita State. The Spartans were 5.5-point underdogs in that contest and they won by five points. Miami, meanwhile, also has lost three of their last four, all to NCAA Tournament teams (3-4 ATS). Overall, Miami is a woeful 11-19 ATS.
Michigan State had a very pedestrian season by their standards and if you look at the numbers then they look like a very average team. Looking at the stats, nothing stands out. The Spartans averaged 71.7 PPG (210th in the nation), while giving up 68.4 PPG (80th in the nation). Their turnover margin of -3.2 is terrible (334th in the nation, 13th in the Big 10). They do share the ball; their 17.0 assists per game put them 13th in the country in that category and third in their conference. The Spartans are a solid shooting team (46.8% FG, 4th in the Big Ten) and that includes their ability to score from the three-point line (37.6%, fourth in the Big Ten). What’s clear is that this team will go as far as star freshman F Miles Bridges (16.7 PPG, 8.3 RPG) takes them. The 6’7” Bridges is likely going to be leaving after the season, as he is a surefire NBA talent. Expect Miami coach Jim Larranaga to key on Bridges, perhaps using either 6’8” senior F Kamari Murphy or 6’7” sophomore G/F Anthony Lawrence to check Bridges. It will be a tough matchup either way, as Bridges might be too quick for Murphy to handle and too strong for Lawrence to deal with. Then again, just containing Bridges might be a start. Bridges has scored in double digits in all but three games in which he’s played and he recorded seven double-doubles this season. Freshman F Nick Ward (13.7 PPG, 6.5 RPG) has also been solid for Tom Izzo, shooting 58% from the floor. Ward does his damage in the paint. He did not attempt a three-pointer all season long and he’s a bit of a liability from the foul line (60.6% FT). Ward has posted six straight games in double figures (24 overall) and notched four double-doubles (including two in the last three games). He will, however, need to make sure he avoids foul trouble. That’s been an issue for him all season. Tom Izzo usually leans on a strong backcourt. This year, the Spartans’ guard play has not been a strength. 6’5” freshman Joshua Langford (6.6 PPG) has been solid, but he has 38 turnovers to his 37 assists. While Langford shoots treys at a 41.3% clip, he’s only tried 80 all season. 5’10” spark plug Lourawls Nairn Jr. (3.7 PPG, 3.7 APG) has a very solid 3.36 assist-to-turnover ratio and he can impact the game with just his ball handling and decision-making. In MSU’s win over Penn St in the Big Ten tourney, Nairn was scoreless but he dished out nine assists without committing a turnover. 6’4” senior Alvin Ellis (6.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.2 APG) is steady but unspectacular. Sparty does not get much production from its bench this year. The best of the bench bunch has been 6-foot frosh Cassius Winston (6.7 PPG, 5.1 APG). Winston has had 17 games with 5+ assists. Sophomore Matt McQuaid (5.4 PPG) is a 34.5% shooter from distance and could change this game if he gets hot from the outside.
Miami, on the other hand, is a team heavily reliant on its guard play, led by All-ACC Third Team and ACC All-Defensive Team standout, 6’6” senior Davon Reed (15.0 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 2.5 APG). Reed had 25 games in double figures, including seven games scoring 20+ this season. He plays hard on both ends of the floor, and he’ll need to be Miami’s best player in this one. 6’5” freshman Bruce Brown (11.9 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.2 APG) had 19 games in double figures and is coming off a 21-point, seven-rebound performance in the Hurricane’s loss to North Carolina in the ACC Tournament. Brown has drawn comparisons to Avery Bradley for his two-way intensity. It’d be big if he can come through defensively once again on Friday. Junior PG Ja’Quan Newton (13.4 PPG and 3.4 APG) runs the show for Miami. He’s a good player though his play has been subpar since a three-game suspension in mid-February for a violation of team rules. In the frontcourt, Miami is led by the rugged Kamari Murphy (7.3 PPG, 7.5 RPG), who shoots for a high percentage from the floor (52.5% FG), but not from the foul line (61.2% FT). Sophomore Anthony Lawrence Jr. (6.9 PPG, 3.8 RPG) rounds out the starting lineup. Miami is not deep, only playing seven guys usually. Their biggest bench weapon is D.J. Vasiljevic, a 6’3” freshman sniper, who took 83.8% of his shots from outside the arc, making 35.2% of them.