Michigan State Basketball: How the Spartans Must Approach the First Two Rounds

Brad AlmquistFeatured ColumnistMarch 18, 2014

Michigan State Basketball: How the Spartans Must Approach the First Two Rounds

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    Finally, the madness has arrived. The Michigan State Spartans enter the NCAA tournament as a No. 4 seed and a favorite to emerge from the field of 68 as the lone victor. However, they must approach the first two rounds of the Big Dance with great intensity and focus.

    If not, Sparty could be destined for a much earlier return to East Lansing than it expected.

    State's first opponent features a streaking Delaware squad, a No. 13 seed out of the Colonial. If Sparty was to win, it would meet either Cincinnati or Harvard in the Round of 32.

    All three of those foes have the potential to knock off the talented Spartans. This slideshow will feature what Michigan State must focus on in order to knock off its future challenger(s).

Round of 64 vs. Delaware

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    This isn't your typical No. 13 seed.

    Delaware boasts a trio of prolific scorers, all averaging over 18 points per game, who pace one of the nation's premier attacks. The Blue Hens are ranked 23rd in the country with 79.5 points registered per game.

    That high-flying attack is well-organized and lethal from a variety of sources. Delaware is also incredibly efficient, turning the ball over just 9.6 times per contest, good for eighth in the country.

    I reiterate, this isn't a conventional bottom-seeded team.

    The winner of the regular season and conference tournament for the Colonial Athletic Association, Delaware is making its first trip to the Big Dance since 1999. 

    Delaware lost to No. 3-ranked Ohio State in Columbus when the Buckeyes were playing some of their best basketball back in December, by only 12 points. Michigan State lost to Ohio State in Columbus by two points in the final game of the regular season.

    Additionally, the Blue Hens were defeated by a measly four points to now No. 2-seed Villanova earlier this season.

    Michigan State can't afford to approach this team with any sense of complacency or lightness. Delaware's high-powered attack and efficient style bode well for a monumental early-round upset.

    The Blue Hens can play with the best. Sparty is the more talented, experienced and well-coached team, but it must attack Delaware from the opening tip.

Round of 32 vs. Cincinnati

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    The Cincinnati Bearcats win games with physicality and discipline on the defensive end. Offensively, Sean Kilpatrick, second all-time in scoring in Bearcats history, paces the attack. Kilpatrick is as complete of a scorer as anyone in the country.

    The American Conference regular season winners have serious potential to make a run.

    This season, the 'Cats have beaten Memphis twice, Louisville on the road and Connecticut at home. Actually, Cincinnati has only lost by a combined nine points in its last three defeats.

    This team is built for tournament success. It has experience (three of the team's featured players are seniors), a great defense and one prolific scorer. Head coach Mick Cronin has also established himself as one of the better coaches in the country.

    So what's that mean for Michigan State?

    First, it has to execute offensively. Although that should be a focal point for basically every game, it is imperative the Spartans remain patient and pick their spots against an elite defensive bunch.

    Also, State must dictate the pace. Sparty likes to push the ball in transition, which, conversely, Cincinnati does not. The Bearcats slow the tempo offensively and work to get Kilpatrick his shots.

    Lastly, Adreian Payne must attack Justin Jackson. Jackson is an exceptional athlete and rim-protector and will likely be matched with Payne. If Payne can sideline Jackson due to foul trouble, that leaves Cincinnati devoid of its best defensive player.

    This game's outcome will likely be dictated by whose pace it is played at. If the game is a grind-it-out slugfest, the advantage tilts in Cincinnati's favor. But if State can speed up the 'Cats, the Spartans will run away with this one.

Round of 32 vs. Harvard

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    Harvard is another potential opponent that is capable of knocking off a heavy favorite.

    Remember when it handled No. 3-seed New Mexico? That wasn't a fluke, which explains why Tommy Amaker's squad has won its fourth straight Ivy League title this season.

    Harvard is a balanced club led by Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers. The Crimson have five players who score 10 or more points, which equates to potential tournament success. 

    Harvard has won 12 of its last 13 games as well. An uber-efficient offensive team, the Crimson have the capable scorers to potentially match the Spartans' attack.

    The Crimson have tournament experience, fantastic depth, discipline on both ends and an outstanding coach. It is a popular choice to upset Cincinnati, and it won't be shocking to see it happen again against Michigan State.

    Sparty must utilize its size and athleticism against the smaller Crimson. Harvard doesn't have anyone playing significant minutes listed over 6'7".

    This will be Payne's game to dominate. The Spartans will control the glass, but it needs to be attentive and cohesive defensively against a tremendous Harvard team.