By Matthew Sturgeon on March 24, 2014
The No. 4 seeded Michigan State Spartans and the No. 1 seeded Virginia Cavaliers are set to do battle in the Sweet 16 at Madison Square Garden this coming Friday night. Both teams are exceptionally well coached, play with tremendous toughness and have the wherewithal to win a national championship. It will be one heck of a matchup that goes all the way down to the wire. Having said that, I like the Spartans to win and here are five reasons why.
For much of the regular season, the Spartans weren't healthy nor cohesive. Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Branden Dawson all missed significant amounts of time and the team never really seemed to play with great fluidity on the offensive side of the ball. All are healthy now, and with that MSU is surging. Add in Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine and find me a better and more talented starting five in America.
Dawson is unquestionably the Spartans' x-factor in terms of the team continuing to win. His sheer athleticism, hustle and offensive rebounding prowess are major reasons why Sparty is yet again in the hunt for another national championship. Virginia will need to keep him from winning majority of the 50-50 balls in this game if they want a chance to win.
Ahh…Thank you, Bo Ryan and thank you, Wisconsin Badgers. Tom Izzo's team is greatly familiar with Virginia coach Tony Bennett's style of play. The Cavaliers want to limit their opposition's offensive possessions and control the game's pace of play. Sounds a lot like what the boys up in Madison do to me. If MSU can get out in transition and force Virginia to play at an up-tempo pace, look out. If not, well, who on Virginia can guard Payne?
Pretty remarkable, isn't it? And while Virginia is no doubt an excellent team, I don't expect this incredible feat to end. Appling and Payne are healthy, hungry and determined. This will be their third consecutive Sweet 16 appearance as opposed to the entire Virginia roster which has a combined none. The MSU players won't let this streak end and neither will college basketball's best coach.
Here is the ultimate x-factor. It has to be pointed out that Tony Bennett has done a fantastic job in resurrecting Virginia basketball. He's a terrific coach who is clearly becoming one of the nation's best. Izzo, on the other hand, well, he is the nation's best. No one consistently has their team more prepared come NCAA Tournament time, and with this group entirely healthy, expect Izzo and the Spartans to march on to the Elite Eight.
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