In the Greatest Athletic Venue on the Planet the Michigan State Spartans & the Virginia Cavaliers Would Love a Boxing Match to Break out at their Sweet 16 Matchup!
Madison Square Garden
New York, New York
It is going to be a classic heavyweight fight. The #1 seed Virginia Cavaliers and the #4 seed Michigan State Spartans. It’s going to be a battle royale for a shot at the elite eight and a Willie Wonka Golden Ticket to Texas. With Texas being the reward destination if either team makes it to the Final Four we can officially declare that in the heart of Gotham we have ourselves a hoot nanny.
Right here in the most famous athletic arena in the world two teams so very similar and yet so very different are about to take the gloves off. In what could be the most entertaining games of the all-time most entertaining tournament heretofore we are looking for a bruising bloodbath. IF, the refs let them play.
The Cavaliers are 30-6 and the Spartans are 28-8. The Spartans record is deceiving with several of their losses coming when they were considerably far from full strength and not themselves. So what is the mindset in both locker rooms? I was there today.
Joe Harris has started all 36 games for the Cavs and he isn’t intimidated by the valiant Spartans. He said, “We’re not going to change up anything that we do offensively. We have no new sets, nothing like that. What we have done to get us to this point has worked up to this time, and there’s nothing new or nothing changes for us.”
Akil Mitchell may have to face Spartan star Adreian Payne and he isn’t batting an eye. “So he’ll be a good matchup for us, but I think we’ll be prepared.”
Harris described the Cavalier attack as, “…would say smash mouth, I guess, if you’re going to be taking from those two categories. We don’t really get up and down a whole lot. We can, but we prefer to play half court kind of a grind it out, smash mouth type of game.”
Spartan head coach Tom Izzo thinks his career resume lends itself to some optimism for this matchup. He said that, ‘Over the years I think one of the successes we have had as a program is we could play racehorse or smash mouth. We have been able to play both. I think how we schedule, different teams we play. Our conference is filled with some new coaches that teams press, team’s zone, team’s man, teams walk it up, teams speed it up. We were the team that played against his dad I think it was 20 19 at the end of the game. It was 19 17 at halftime and it was just a tough game. But then a couple nights later we played and score almost 90 points or 80 points against Florida.”
He went on to add, “So we have got one of those teams that look, it’s hard to impose your will on somebody when it’s also their strength. We run, but we can run in half court. They send a lot of guys back, it’s been the culture that he’s developed there, not giving up easy shots. We’re going to try to run, but that’s not going to be the end all be all if they take that away, because then they’re not offensive rebounding as well either. So you give up something to get something.”
Keith Appling said of the Cavalier attack, “They’re a great defensive team. We’re just going to try to have to try to find easy ways to get baskets. We understand they’re tough. They guard very tough in the half court, so it’s just a matter of us getting steals and getting out on the break and getting easy ones, because that’s what it’s all going to come down to.”
Gary Harris shooting touch is going to be a key thing for the Spartans. Sticking with the western theme of this story, if he can get his guns shooting fast and accurate he can stifle the Cavaliers attack. He said, “It’s definitely all going to start on the defensive end, because it’s kind of hard to run and get out in transition when they’re scoring every time. So we’re just going to have to depend on our defense to help us get out going in transition.”
For Akil Mitchell he thinks the game is going to be simple. I agree with him. He said, “That’s been one of our keys all year is to make sure we limit transition points, and it’s something we focused on against Memphis was getting back in transition. So it will be something that we have to focus in on again, getting the ball stopped, keeping them out of the paint, and then making them play against a set defense.”
So how does this balance out? How does this workout? There are no secrets. The tape doesn’t lie. Both teams know what they want to do and both know how they want to do it. In about 29 hours they will have to do it.
From the Mecca of basketball two teams will try to play an old school game in a modern world. Both coaches would love the new world ignorant fouling rules to disappear and simply allow the play in the Garden to reflect many of the amazing boxing matches that have been held here before.
That won’t happen, but I do expect the Spartans shooting to draw the Cavaliers out of their packed defense and the Spartans to win. Make it 62-56 MSU.