Mighty Michigan State Spartans Look to Roll the Huskies On Their Way to Another Final Four
Madison Square Garden
New York, New York
At 2:20 today the Michigan State Spartans will take the court here at the worldâ€™s most famous athletic venue: Madison Square Garden. Decked out in their white uniforms with the script S Magic Johnson will be in the stands and the Spartans will look to punch their gold ticket to the Final Four in Dallas next week.
Standing between them and Dallas are the Connecticut Huskies who share the same goals. Unfortunately for the Huskies and head coach Kevin Ollie the Spartans stand in the way. More importantly than just the generic Spartans, are a dual tandem of Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne. Ollie understands how difficult that will be.
â€œThat's a tough job creating, trying to find matchups for them guys. First you got to play hard, you got to do your work early. You can't let them establish low post position. So we want to do our work early. We want to be aggressive, if we decide to trap and we want to limit them to no second chance points. Branden Dawson does a wonderful job getting second chance points, and we can't let them do that and get easy buckets. So our focus is to do our work early, push them off their sweet spots and make it hard for them the whole day.â€
Tom Izzo loves the maturation of the Payne and Dawson relationship. He talked about how it has developed.
â€œWell, it is funny because I think at times they were more adversarial. We had the big Penn State incident, which really wasn't nearly as big as it seemed, but that really started the turnaround. So it's kind of funny how they're having success together, when it all started out they both probably had one of their best games over a little scuffle.â€
He finished saying about AP and BJ that, â€œThey're really working well together right now. Branden is a very smart player. I never thought Adreian would throw some of the passes he has thrown into the post or the lob pass he threw last night. They are fric and frac. They're working together, they're playing together, they're starting to get a feel for one another now that they're back. They both went through injuries, so I think they have an appreciation, and it's been really good and it's been fun to watch those two grow together.â€
So it is Ollie calling for aggression and â€œpushingâ€ the Spartans around. I like that style of play and even bigger than what this reporter thinks, is that the fact it plays in to the style Tom Izzo loves.
The Cavaliers of Virginia according to their star Joe Harris heard their coach Tony Bennett stand before them prior to meeting the Spartans on Friday and say, â€œThis is for a Final Four. The winner of this game is going to Dallas.â€ I agree with Bennett. You saw a brutal war on Friday and Ollie declaring one for today is a gift.
UCONN star Shabazz Napier repeated his head coachâ€™s call for a fight and he better be careful because he is going to get it. â€œwe understand that this is definitely going to be another dogfight. We don't expect them to back down and I hope they don't expect us to back down. It's going to be a fight, and we're just hopeful that we'll be on top.â€
The Huskies Ryan Boatright called the same idea. He is a tough player and he knows that is what it will take for a win. â€œIt's all about toughness. That's their identity. They're going to come out and try to punk you. They're big down low. They got some strong guys on the floor. The guards are big. So it's all about toughness, mentally and physically.â€
Can UCONN out MSU the Spartans? I realize you may have to reread that sentence a few times, but it is a legitimate question. Do they have the bigs to take MSU out of their game? Harvard had perhaps the best game plan to beat MSU, but we saw they didnâ€™t have the horses unless MSU took their foot off the gas. How about UCONN?
Izzo addressed it. â€œTheir big guys are good. If you look at it, they get more scoring out of their guards than their perimeter guys, and we have gotten more scoring lately out of ours. But I think for the most part Gary and AP have been our leading scorers throughout the year, so we have maybe a little more balance.â€
He went on to say, â€œBut their big guys impressed me, too. Then when you take a kid like Daniels, who has an incredible, incredible night, doing it inside and outside, we got our work cut out for us. That's why we're in the Elite 8, a lot of good teams around the country.â€
So as the Spartans tip off today what do you expect? The sad part is that both coaches want a smash mouth repeat of the UVA game, but the officials are the third leg on this stool? Will they let them play? How will this end up.
I agree with Coach Bennett. Friday nightâ€™s game was for the Final Four and I donâ€™t think the Huskies can pull their sled to Dallas. I think the depth, experience and toughness of the Spartans helps them roll. Make it 83-71 Michigan State.