In eight of the last 11 years, the Michigan State Spartans have found themselves in the Sweet Sixteen. That's about 73 percent, or three out of every four appearances in the Big Dance.
When people think or talk about the perennial powerhouses in college basketball, MSU is usually not on the short list. Teams like North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, Connecticut, and UCLA are mentioned, but not MSU. Why is that?
First of all, the Spartans play in the Big Ten. This brand of basketball is not aesthetically pleasing to most, save some traditionalists out there.
Second, this is a team which bases its identity on unselfishness and sharing the ball, so rarely do we see a superstar or a guy who is going to score over 20 a night.
Lastly, the pundits out there will argue that teams in the Big Ten are over-matched athletically compared to other top tier teams and conferences.
Well, if we look at the numbers, it is obvious to see that Michigan State has had as impressive a decade as any team in the country.
What better way to wrap up the 2000's than to put a ribbon on top in the form of a national championship.
To do that, certain things need to happen, and here are a few:
The college game has become blatantly dependent on the three-pointer. If a team were to catch fire at the right time, you can throw talent and game-planning out the window.
Outside shooting is by no means a strength for the Spartans, but it could be an asset. Durrell Summers and Chris Allen can be deadly from deep. In order for them to get opportunities, however, it rests on Kalin Lucas's ability to penetrate and kick so that these two guys can get some open looks.
Summers and Allen are also superb transition specialists, not afraid to pull up on the fast break and nail a three, whether Tom Izzo likes it or not.
Other guys, such as Goran Suton, Lucas, and Korie Lucious are capable of hitting an open three as well. Travis Walton came up huge against USC, but counting on him from the outside night in and night out just makes me uncomfortable.
I guess this goes for about every team, but if the State is not hitting from the outside, there is no way they sniff the Final Four.
Protecting the Ball
The one knock on Michigan State this year and traditionally is that they have a propensity to turn the ball over. Now, against lesser teams this usually does not come back to haunt them, but when you get into tournament play, every possession is crucial.
The defense and intensity is turned up a few notches when the tournament rolls around, so protecting the ball against the feisty defenders in mandatory.
Michigan State runs great sets in the half court and if they are able to progress through a few different options on a possession then their odds of getting an easy shot are high.
Where they run into trouble is when they rush their offense and either take a bad shot or turn the ball over. When watching an MSU game you can always count on about three illegal screen calls and four or five traveling calls. It's right up there with death and taxes.
If MSU can protect the ball and force the defense to play a tough 30-35 seconds, they will get a high percentage shot and frustrate the defense in the process.
Almost as important as protecting the ball is protecting the glass. Michigan State has always prided themselves on rebounding, and this year is no different.
Holding a team to one shot per possession and keeping them off the offensive glass is essential to winning these next four games. Suton has been solid all year and Draymond Green is emerging as a force on the boards.
The Spartans do have a knack for going into shooting droughts, so crashing the offensive glass and getting easy put-backs is yet another way to generate offense.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, will the real Raymar Morgan please stand up?
Here is his line from the USC game:
17 minutes played, three points on 0-4 shooting, two rebounds, one assist, two turnovers, and four fouls.
Yes, he may still be slightly feeling the effects of walking pneumonia/mono that has plagued him recently, but the Spartans need a better showing from him moving forward.
The guy, when on his game, is a matchup nightmare for most college players and can be dominant for stretches at a time. However, we haven't seen that much this season. Hopefully, for the Spartans sake, he has been saving his best for last.
If Michigan State can capitalize on these few aspects then they should have no problem getting through these next two games and into the Final Four.
Let's face it, it all comes down to officiating. If this next game is called as poorly as the last game was, it will end in another busted remote control in the Meyer household.
I just thought I would throw that in there Mark Cuban-style.