X-Factors to Watch in Michigan State vs. Delaware NCAA Tournament Matchup

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistMarch 19, 2014

X-Factors to Watch in Michigan State vs. Delaware NCAA Tournament Matchup

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    Branden Dawson
    Branden DawsonAJ Mast/Associated Press

    Michigan State is attracting a lot of attention at the start of the NCAA tournament.

    The Spartans beat Wisconsin and Michigan handily in the final two games of the Big Ten tournament, and that showing, combined with head coach Tom Izzo's history of success in the postseason, has made them one of this year's postseason glamour teams.

    Izzo has regularly been able to get the most out of his players in the biggest games. Perhaps it's his reliance on fundamental basketball skills that he emphasizes in practice.

    Izzo gets production up and down his roster and not just from the stars. Michigan State is as likely to turn a game around as a result of a bench player's performance as it could from a starter's.

    This year, the X-factors on the Spartans are not just bench players. Michigan State suffered a slew of injuries this year to top-level players, and it's difficult for Izzo to know what Branden Dawson or Keith Appling are truly capable of in the tournament.

    Here's a look at the X-factors from Michigan State and Delaware as they prepare to play for their opening-round matchup.

Guard Travis Trice, Michigan State

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Travis Trice is one of the players that Izzo looks to when his team needs a spark. He knows he can count on Trice for energy and a contribution on offense.

    Trice played in 32 games this year for the Spartans, and he started eight of them in place of Appling when he was out. However, Trice is at his best when coming off the bench.

    Trice is averaging 7.3 PPG, and he is shooting a rather unimpressive 41.6 percent from the floor. However, Trice has been getting the job done from beyond the arc, where he is knocking down 44.0 percent of his shots.

    Trice seemed to come on in the season as he realized that he did not have to emulate Appling. All he had to do was play his own game.

    "He’s not trying to be Keith Appling, he’s Travis Trice,” sophomore guard Gary Harris told Joe Rexrode of The Detroit Free Press. “That’s what coach (Tom Izzo) has definitely been harping on, just being himself and not trying to do something he can’t do.”

Forward Carl Baptiste, Delaware

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    GAIL BURTON/Associated Press

    Delaware is a guard-oriented team that can put the ball in the hoop and register some big point totals. The Blue Hens averaged 79.5 points per game this season as they seek their first NCAA tournament win after dropping their four previous appearances.

    However, while guards Devon Saddler and Davon Usher are both averaging better than 19 PPG, the biggest X-factor for Delaware will be its ability to handle a physical Big Ten team.

    Power forward Carl Baptiste (6'9", 260 lbs) is going to have to lead the way for the Blue Hens in that department. Baptiste is averaging 11.3 PPG and 8.0 RPG, and he has shown signs that his game is improving. He had 24 points in the Colonial Athletic Association Championship Game victory over William & Mary, including the winning layup with 12.8 seconds remaining.

    He's going to have to continue to improve, and Baptiste is trending in the right direction as his team prepares for the Spartans.

Forward Branden Dawson, Michigan State

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Dawson is playing solid basketball once again, and he's a key player for Izzo after averaging 10.4 PPG and 8.3 RPG this season.

    But he's not necessarily a given based on the year he had. Dawson missed nine games this season after he got emotional and punched the scorer's table, breaking a bone in his right hand. 

    Dawson is a 6'6", 225-pounder who can run to the ball in the open court and also pound the glass to get key rebounds. He was at his best in the Big Ten tournament as he made shots within the framework of the Spartans offense and played consistently on the defensive end.

    Dawson will have to assert himself on an every-game basis if the Spartans are going to survive and advance in the tournament.

Guard Kyle Anderson, Delaware

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    If Delaware is going to have any chance against Michigan State, it is going to have to be on top of its offensive game. There's little doubt about that, because the Blue Hens give up 75.1 points per game and struggle to stop talented and athletic opponents.

    Delaware has plenty of firepower, and Michigan State is going to be aware of Saddler, Usher and Jarvis Threatt, who is averaging 18.1 PPG.

    However, Kyle Anderson is the team's fourth guard in the starting lineup, and he's much easier to overlook. Anderson averages 11.0 PPG and is not as spectacular as his teammates. However, if he can hit two or three early shots, that's going to cause problems for Izzo's defense.

    The Blue Hens have three legitimate big-time scorers, and that's not easy to defend. If Anderson can supplement their play by hitting his own outside shots, the Blue Hens just may be able to make it a competitive game.

Forward Matt Costello, Michigan State

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Matt Costello had his strength zapped by mononucleosis this season, and that caused him to miss four games.

    However, when he returned to the lineup, he was able to play a key role for the Spartans as he started 20 of the 30 games he played in. Now that the Spartans are healthy, Costello (4.3 PPG, 3.5 RPG) is once again coming off the bench.

    Costello is a big man at 6'9" and 240 pounds. He can hit the glass hard, and he is not going to give opponents an inch when he plays defense. However, his greatest strength is his ability to work with his teammates.

    He has a particularly good working relationship with fellow forward Adreian Payne, a fact that was not lost on Northwestern head coach Chris Collins when his Wildcats played the Spartans earlier this year.

    "I think it's a great duo," Collins told Graham Couch of The Detroit Free Press. " … When they have that big lineup in there, I thought physically they were just dominant. They're learning how to play well together."

    That's going to cause problems for Delaware and subsequent Spartans opponents in the tournament.