Tennessee and Michigan State meet in St. Louis as Bruce Pearl’s No. 6 seed Volunteers (28-8) do battle with Tom Izzo’s Spartans (27-8) on the court at Edward Jones Dome.
SEC clashes with the Big Ten for a spot in the Final Four.
The game pits a pair of coaches and teams who have dealt with adversity during the season. Earlier in the year, Pearl suspended three players and dismissed one from the Volunteers. The Spartans play without starting point guard and inspirational leader, Kalin Lucas.
Flashback : MSU and Tennessee last met in 1994 when the Spartans took a 79-68 decision in East Lansing. The Spartans have a 4-2 advantage in the all-time series.
Tennessee will make its first ever Elite Eight appearance in school history. MSU is making a nation-best seventh Elite Eight trip in the last 12 years.
Foreshadowing : Thirty-seven Spartans have earned roster spots in the National Basketball Association, including current players Charlie Bell, Shannon Brown, Paul Davis, Morris Peterson, Zach Randolph, and Jason Richardson. Twenty-nine Volunteers have laced them up in the Association. Marcus Haislip and C.J. Watson currently wear jerseys in the NBA.
Conflict : Experience versus enthusiasm. Michigan State is supposed to be here. The Spartans returned seven players that played at least 12 minutes in last year’s national final. Tennessee showed glimpses of being spectacular this season. The Volunteers knocked two No. 1s from the pedestal: Kansas and Kentucky.
Rebounding will tell the tale of this matchup. The Spartans grab 8.9 more boards than their opponents. The Spartans understand the importance of shot selection and how it creates rebounding opportunities. Tennessee will need to demonstrate an understanding of appropriate shots.
Wayne Chism leads three Volunteers in double figures with 12.5 points. The senior grabs seven rebounds and has shown he can step out and knock down a three-pointer.
Scotty Hopson and Tyler Smith add 12 and 11 points, respectively. Both Smith and Bobby Maza have assist-to-turnover ratios over 2:1. This is a reflection of Tennessee’s ability to create turnovers and convert at the opposite end of the floor. Brian Williams comes off the bench and pulls down six rebounds.
When Kalin Lucas went down with a season-ending injury, the Spartans needed someone to replace their leading scorer. Korie Lucious has been the man, scoring double figures in the last two games including a game-winning three pointer against Maryland.
Raymar Morgan and Durrell Summers combine for 22 points and almost 12 rebounds.
Draymond Green scores almost 10 and grabs eight boards.
Resolution : Tennessee will make it a game, but the Spartans will decide it. The Volunteers have the athletes to keep it close, but Michigan State has too much experience.