Virginia Cavaliers Have Clear Vision of HOW to beat the Michigan State Spartan, but Can They Execute it?
Madison Square Garden
New York, New York
Eventually tonight, sometime after 10 PM EST the 30-6 Virginia Cavaliers will put their #1 seed NCAA credentials on the line against the 28-8 Michigan State Spartans. Vegas says they are underdogs and most of the talking heads in college basketball feel the same. Needless to say: they don’t.
Akil Mitchell will have the task of stopping the Spartans where they start, with Adreian Payne and he said, “He (Payne) will be a tough matchup. He’s been a tough matchup for teams all year because he can stretch the floor, he’s got good touch and he can also put the ball on the floor and post up also.”
Joe Harris thinks the Spartans are a complete team, but not one worth trying to change for. I agree with that. What they have done has got them to a sweet 16 and 30 wins. When things aren’t working the adage if you don’t like what you’ve had change what you do comes to mind. That isn’t the case here.
Joe Harris said, “We watched a little bit of film this morning, actually right before we came over here. Just saw some of their defensive tendencies. They’re not like an overly pressure oriented defensive team, they keep guys in front, they play very good help defense but they collapse on the ball quite a bit whenever you try and get any dribble drives or penetration.”
The Spartans are versatile. They can play it just about any way an opponent wants. They can run, they can smash mouth and they can slow it down to a half-court game. Deep down, everyone knows the Spartans would prefer to get teams in a transition game and Mitchell recognizes the Spartans talent at doing such.
“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.”
For Cavs head coach Tony Bennett the preparation for MSU had to be confusing. A virtual mast unit all season what film would you show your team? He had no issues figuring out the Spartans. Bennett says that, “I know which Michigan State team we’re going to play and that’s the important thing. How they played in the Big 10 Conference Tournament, how they I don’t want to say breezed through it but how they really were at times dominant and certainly in the NCAA Tournament. That’s who they are. That’s the expectations at the start of the year where they were projected has kind of come to fruition. The level of basketball they’re playing is showing. That’s who we’re preparing for. You watch those other games to see if there’s some consistencies, but there is their full roster and certainly they’re playing at a high level.”
That aforementioned Spartan transition game still can’t be ignored. Right now the Spartans are among the nation’s best playing that way and Coach Bennett sees it just like Mitchell does. “They have always been as long as I’ve watched Coach’s team, boy, this year they can really spread the floor with their ability to shoot, their speed getting up the floor. They have some bigs that can trail and shoot it as well.”
He went on to add that, “Someone asked me before, are there any teams you’ve played against that have prepared you that play similar to Michigan State? And certainly Carolina runs, even Memphis, their speed in transition, but what I think is unique or very good about Michigan State is that they’re very complete when they run. It’s not they have one guy who can buzz up the floor off the dribble, and they go to the rack. They will do that, they can get there with their players, but they also will kick it up, spread it with their shooters, they got rim runners and it’s what they do when they drill it. And that’s something he’s always done, and I think this is one of his best teams in transition that I’ve seen.”
Good coaches know that you shouldn’t change who you are if it’s working and it has been. What they also know is that they have to be true to who they are. “We’re not going to change who we are, we’re just going to have to probably do it a little better to try to stop that. I think every team who plays them or teams like that, that’s got to be a focus if you want to certainly have a chance against a Michigan State team.”
Bennett thinks this will be a battle. This will be the best team his Cavs have faced this year and frankly I think Virginia is the best team MSU has played this year. That sets this up for a classic game.
Bennett described it as, “It’s going to be a war of attrition. There’s definitely some similarities, obviously they probably run more. We’ll try to opportunistically, but it will be a battle at who can execute best.
Certainly there’s going to be hopefully it will be a physical game, it will be a sound game, and you’re going to have to play that way to beat a Michigan State team the way they’re playing.”
He thinks his guys respect MSU, but aren’t wide eyed. “I think that our guys understand that, and just watching them, this Michigan State team, as the first question suggested, where they’re at right now, we understand that. But are we equipped to play against them well? I think when we’re playing at our best, our style gives us a chance to beat the best. We always talk about that. That’s how you prepare your team, so when you play against high, high level opponents, does your system, does your style give you that chance? And that’s what we have tried to build and build and we’ll get our chance.”
I think of all eight games that will be played yesterday and today for a trip to the elite eight, this one is the prize. This one is going to just be a fist fight battle and I for one can’t wait. Virginia has a great plan, the question is can they execute it and win?