Game 34 – No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 9 Michigan State: Preview and Prediction

After a thorough butt-kicking of UC Davis in the round of 64, the No. 1-seeded Kansas Jayhawks (29-4, 16-2 Big 12) now turn their focus to a familiar foe — the 9th-seeded Michigan State Spartans (20-14, 10-8 Big Ten).

As part of the annual Champions Classic, the Jayhawks and Spartans have squared off every other year for the past five seasons. In fact, these two programs have met each other five of the last eight seasons, including twice in 2008-2009.

The Spartans come in off a pretty convincing win themselves. After falling down 17-5 in the first half to Miami, MSU stormed back and ended up winning 78-58. This isn’t the typical Tom Izzo team, as the Spartans are very young, starting four freshmen. MSU has had an up-and-down season to say the least, as a preseason-top 15 team finished middle of the pack in the Big Ten. It was the first time Michigan State has finished outside of the top three in the conference since 2010-11.

Freshman stud Miles Bridges leads the Spartans, as he averages 16.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.

Game Notes

  • Michigan State leads the all-time series 7-5
  • Michigan State has won three of the last four meetings. The last matchup was back in November of 2015 in Chicago. MSU won, 79-73
  • KU’s last win came back in 2014 when they took down the Spartans 61-56 in the championship game of the Orlando Classic
  • The Spartans and Jayhawks have met in the NCAA Tournament twice before. MSU won in the Sweet Sixteen in 2009, and KU earned the victory in the 1986 Sweet Sixteen.
  • A win over MSU would give KU its second-straight 30 win season, the eighth in the Bill Self era and the 14th in school history
  • Senior guard and 2017 Big 12 Player of the Year, Frank Mason had 22 points, eight rebounds and five assists in KU’s opening round victory over UC-Davis
  • In his first game back from suspension, first team All-Big 12 performer Josh Jackson had 17 points on 8-12 shooting and seven rebounds against UC-Davis
  • VegasInsider.com has Kansas as the favorite at -8.5

When: Sunday, March 19, 2017, 4:15pm CDT

Where: BOK Center, Tulsa, OK

How to Watch: CBS or NCAA March Madness App

How to Listen: Jayhawk Radio Network

Michigan State Spartans (20-14, 10-8 Big Ten)

The Spartans may not be the traditional top program they usually are, but they still aren’t a team to be taken lightly. They have one of the best coaches in the country in Tom Izzo, who has a great track record in March. Izzo has guided five teams that were seeded fifth or lower to Sweet Sixteen.

This MSU team may be young, but boy are they battle-tested. Similar to KU, Michigan State plays a daunting non-conference schedule. This season they have played the likes of Arizona, Kentucky, Baylor and Duke, not to mention conference rivals Michigan, Purdue and Wisconsin.

Izzo has a great young front line with Bridges and Nick Ward. Bridges was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year and was also named second team All-Big Ten. While he didn’t garner the same honors Bridges did, Ward had a very nice season and has come on strong down the stretch.

The Spartans will be without their senior leader Eron Harris. He injured his knee back in mid-February in a game against Purdue.

Strengths/Weaknesses

Strength –  Low Post Offense: No doubt about it, the Spartans strength offensively is their low post play. MSU ranks 52nd nationally in FG% at the rim. Bridges and Ward are nearly automatic if they get to bucket as they shoot 64% and 72% respectively at the rim.

Strength – Defensive Rebounding: The Jayhawks cleaned up on the offensive boards against UC Davis, but that might not be the case against the Spartans. MSU ranks 82nd nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, as they haul in 70% of their opponents misses. They also rank 24th nationally in defensive rebounds per game at 24.6.

Strength – Low Post Defense: The Spartans rank 43rd in opponents field goal percentage at the rim. With that being said, they do let their opponents get more than enough chances at the rim this season. They rank 234th nationally in opponents field goal attempts at the rime.

Strength –  Transition Offense/Defense: Much like the Jayhawks, the Spartans excel in the open floor. They are top 35 in field goal percentage in transition. They are also top 10 in transition defense. It’ll be interesting to see if the Jayhawks can get out and run vs. the Spartans.

Strength – Scoring Defense: MSU does a great job of limiting points. They give up an average of 68.1 points per game, which is 65th nationally.


Weakness – Free Throw Shooting: The Spartans shoot 66% from the charity stripe — 287th nationally.

Weakness – Three-Point Defense: The Jayhawks were lights out from three on Friday night as they 11-25 from range. The Spartans rank 138th in three-point defense.

Weakness – Fouling: Michigan State ranks towards the bottom of the NCAA in personal fouls committed per game. This is not the deepest MSU team, so if the Jayhawks can force them into foul trouble they could be in for some problems.

Weakness – Ball Security: Sparty ranks 284th in turnovers committed per game. Guard play is not the strongest suit of MSU, they turn the ball over 14.1 times per game. Look for some of those TOs to lead to run outs for the Jayhawks.

Spartans to Watch

Miles Bridges – 6’7″, Forward, Freshman

  • Leads the team in scoring and rebounding
  • Can step out and shoot the three
  • Leads the team in blocked shots
  • Not a great free throw shooters at 69%
  • Near automatic at the rim at 64%

Nick Ward – 6’8″, Forward, Freshman

  • Second on the team in rebounding
  • Perhaps MSU’s best low post threat — shoots 72% at the rim
  • Like Bridges, not a great free throw shooter — 61%
  • Prone to fouling — only plays around 20 minutes per game
  • Averaging 16.4/9.8 over his last five games

Three Keys

Make Threes: Michigan State does allow opponents to convert on three-point baskets. KU should be able to take advantage of that. If Kansas is going to win this game, the outside shot will need to fall because interior baskets could be hard to come by.

Take Care of the Ball: UC Davis was able to hang around for the first 10 minutes on Friday night because KU didn’t take care of the ball. Kansas won’t be able to do that against a team the caliber of MSU. Michigan State doesn’t force too many turnovers, so Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham should be able to take care of this key.

Josh Jackson: I don’t know if Sparty has anyone to check up with Jackson. In his first NCAA Tournament game ever, Jackson looked mighty impressive. We know Mason brings it every night, and because of that KU is a very good team. But as we saw on Friday, Kansas goes from good to great when Jackson is performing at a high level.

Prediction

Kansas 79, Michigan State 70

Izzo always has his teams ready for March, and even though this team is young, thats one reason why I think MSU will give the Jayhawks a game. In the end though, I like Kansas’ experience to come into play here. Mason, Graham and Landen Lucas have all been here before. KU also has some familirity with Michigan State, that may not be the case fro MSU since they are so young. I think KU’s experience will be a difference in the game.

MSU may have an advantage in the front court, but it’s not as big of an advantage as KU has in the back court with Mason and Graham. I really don’t know if MSU’s guard can keep up with them.

It will be intriguing to see if Graham can carry his hot shooting over into this matchup. KU is a much better team offensively when Graham is firing from three.

Bobby Norell

My name is Bobby Norell. I’m from a small town in northern Indiana. I grew up a Notre Dame fan, as many of my family members graduated from there. I attend every home football game, and my fair share of basketball games.

My Kansas fandom is something I brought upon myself when I was little. Around the time I was in first grade, Kirk Hinrich was leading Kansas to back-to-back Final Fours. I loved Hinrich those KU teams, and ever since they I’ve been hooked on Kansas basketball.

I recently graduated from Indiana University with a degree in Sport Communication. Even though my diploma says I’m a Hoosier, my love for the Jayhawks has never wavered. They’ll always come No.1.

I’m excited for the opportunity here at Rock Chalk Blog. I hope to provide you with some thoughtful and informational analysis. Aside from my work here, you can catch some of my work at OneFootDown.com on SB Nation. There I cover Notre Dame football and basketball, as well as a little recruiting.