Biggest Challenges Virginia Faces vs. Michigan State in Sweet 16 Matchup

Doug Brodess@DougbrodessCorrespondent IMarch 27, 2014

Biggest Challenges Virginia Faces vs. Michigan State in Sweet 16 Matchup

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    Virginia enters its battle with Michigan State with an Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season championship and tournament title on its 2013-14 resume.

    According to, UVa (30-6, 16-2 ACC) is "one win shy of breaking the school record for most victories in a season."

    The Spartans are no stranger to the Sweet 16. Under head coach Tom Izzo, MSU has advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament 12 times in 18 years.

    The Cavaliers, on the other hand, have only made 18 NCAA tournament appearances, with seven trips to the Sweet 16, in school history.

    It is strange that, Tony Bennett's squad, a No. 1 seed, may go into its contest with Michigan State as an underdog.

    Here are five challenges the Cavs will tackle when they face the Spartans in their Sweet 16 matchup.

5. Disrupt MSU's Ball Movement

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    Michigan State moves the ball as well as just about any other team in the country. Rather than a collection of individuals who look to pad their own stats, the Spartans consistently look for each other and effectively share the ball.

    MSU averages 17 assists per game (No. 6 in the nation). Sixty-two percent of its made baskets come off assists (No. 13).

    Senior point guard Keith Appling leads the team in assists per game (4.6), but sophomore wing Denzel Valentine and backup guard Travis Trice both have outstanding assist-to-turnover ratios of 2.2 and 2.3, respectively.

    Interfering with the Spartans' ball movement is one of the most important ways for the Wahoos to break Michigan State's offensive flow.

    Even if UVa is not successful in forcing lots of turnovers, it needs to make it as difficult as possible for MSU to reverse the ball on the perimeter or dump it down low.

4. Run Spartans off the Arc

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    For the long haul, Michigan State has been known as a tough, defense-first program. This year's Spartans are still stoppers on the defensive end, but they are also excellent shooters from distance.

    As a team, they are shooting 39.3 percent from beyond the arc. MSU was feeling it in their opening March Madness game against Delaware, when they knocked down 10-of-19 (52.6 percent) from long range.

    Michigan State's guards are not the only players on this team that can drill shots from downtown. Five of the Spartans' top six scorers shoot at least 35 percent from three.

    Freshman forward Kenny Kaminski leads the team in three-point percentage, shooting a fantastic 49.3 percent on the year.

    Virginia will need to be just as threatening against MSU as it has been the entire 2013-14 season. The Cavaliers have held their opponents to 38.6 percent from the field (No. 6 in the nation).

3. Get to the Offensive Glass

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    Virginia is a decent offensive rebounding team, rounding up 31.8 percent (No. 100 in the nation) of its own missed shots. 

    Michigan State, however, is an excellent defensive rebounding team, pulling down 75.9 percent of its opponents' errant field-goal attempts.

    The Spartans do not just rely on one or two players to do all of the dirty work on the defensive boards. All five players look to box out and go after the ball.

    Can you even suit up for head coach Tom Izzo if you don't go hard to the glass?

    Junior wing Branden Dawson is one of the best perimeter rebounders in college basketball. He is averaging 5.2 defensive rebounds per game.

    Senior forward Akil Mitchell and sophomore center Mike Tobey are the Cavs' best bangers on the O-glass.

    Even if Virginia shoots a good percentage against Michigan State, its ability to get second-chance baskets is a major key to this game.

2. Control the Tempo

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    Virginia head coach Tony Bennett likes to play at a very deliberate pace. The Cavaliers make opponents work well into the shot clock and use most of their 35 seconds when they have the ball.

    For the 2013-14 season, the Cavaliers average 62.6 possessions per game, which is No. 346 in the nation. Only five teams average less.

    For most of the game, Michigan State plays at a moderate pace, looking to get out in transition when it can, but being patient when it runs its half-court sets.

    Because they know how UVa likes to play, the Spartans will try to push the tempo and get the Cavaliers to function beyond their normal, unhurried speed.

1. Contain Payne

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    Michigan State senior forward Adreian Payne is one of the premier big men in college basketball.

    Payne causes matchup nightmares for the Spartans' opponents. He is a beast around the basket, and he can step outside and knock down shots from distance.

    His 43.8 percent shooting from beyond the arc demonstrates that he must be watched at all times.

    In MSU's opening March Madness game against Delaware, Payne went off. He scored a career-high 41 points on 10-of-15 shooting, including 4-of-5 from three. He also was a perfect 17-of-17 from the free-throw line.

    The Associated Press' recap of the game states (via

    This marked the first 40-point performance in the NCAA tournament since Stephen Curry did it for Davidson in a win over Gonzaga in 2008. Payne set a school tournament scoring record, surpassing the 34 points Greg Kelser scored during Michigan State's 1979 title run led by Magic Johnson.

    After missing most of January because of a foot injury, Payne is back to full strength and full speed.

    Akil Mitchell will probably draw this daunting assignment. Containing him has to be one of the Cavaliers' main priorities on the defensive end. They can not afford for Payne to get into rhythm, or he could take over this Sweet 16 game.


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