Michigan St.-Providence Preview - Sports Illustrated

Michigan St.-Providence Preview

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Providence got a day off after a game its coach referred to as exhausting. So did Michigan State, and if that day didn't cool off Denzel Valentine, any rest his next opponent got figures to be trivial.

The teams meet Sunday night in Anaheim for the Wooden Legacy title, each seeking hardware to go along with a 7-0 start, but the Spartans' senior guard should be the Friars' first objective.

In Friday's 77-67 semifinal win over Boise State, Valentine hit five consecutive 3-pointers to break open a one-point game in the second half and finished with a career-high 32 points on 8-of-15 shooting. He tied a career high with seven 3s, made all nine of his free throws, and added nine rebounds and six assists.

"Denzel had a stretch where he was unbelievable, but I didn't think that was his best game and that's the good news for me," coach Tom Izzo said.

There are plenty of candidates already this season. It followed a 29-point effort in Michigan State's 99-68 opening-round win over Boston College the day before, which matched his previous career high - set 10 days prior in a win over then-No. 4 Kansas.

But even Izzo is calling for Valentine to get more help. While his coach appreciates the progress of his own efficiency, Valentine's outburst against Boise State nearly doubled the 17 points the rest of the starting five scored on 5-of-21 shooting.

"He is starting to do it more efficiently," Izzo said. "At Kansas, he took 23 shots but now he is down around 15 shots. I feel a little bad for him, whenever he's trying to get shots and assists too, we have guys missing layups and it ticks me off and I hope it ticks him off too."

That doesn't yet seem to be the case, and his backcourt mate is showing signs of chipping in. Tum Tum Nairn had nine points and a team-high seven assists for the Spartans. Nairn is averaging 11.0 points and shooting 52.9 percent over 31.5 minutes in the tournament after putting up 2.5 on 4 of 13 and averaging 18.8 minutes in the team's first four games.

"He carried us in the first half and he got me going," Valentine said. "He was the one who got me going and was in my ear. If I took a bad shot, he told me."

Michigan State (6-0) can now match its 2013-14 start for its best since winning 12 straight to begin its 2000-01 Final Four season, but Providence (6-0) is coming off an impressive win over another national power.

The Friars beat No. 11 Arizona 69-65 Friday, and it apparently took its toll.

"That was an exhausting, exhausting game," coach Ed Cooley said.

The positive was their top scorer got some serious help and has throughout the Friars' impressive start. Ben Bentil scored a career-high 21 points, and standout guard Kris Dunn finished with 19, needing just nine shots to get there. Bentil has scored at least 21 in three straight and is averaging 16.5 for the season after finishing with 6.4 as a freshman.

"Our team made some big plays," said Dunn, who's averaging 18.7 points and added eight assists. "It was just a great team win. Ben really stepped up for us."

Providence is 6-0 for a third straight season but hasn't won its first seven since winning 13 straight in 1988-89.

Their six wins in the last 18 games against the Top 25 might not turn any heads, but another six of those games have been decided by six points or fewer. The last meeting with the Spartans didn't end as favorably with Michigan State - then also No. 3 - winning 82-58 in the 1999 Puerto Rico Shootout on its way to the national championship.