As Spartan fans look ahead to the match up with the quintessential March Madness "Cinderella," Brad Stevens' Horizon League champion Butler Bulldogs, questions of Tom Izzo's approach on how to handle the north siders are being raised.
How will Izzo attack Stevens' Big Ten-esque mode of operation?
The Bulldogs play much more like one of the Spartans' conference foes, and less like a meek mid-major hoping to upset mighty Michigan State.
Things could get a little interesting in Indianapolis.
After all, the 'Dogs will essentially be playing in front of a home crowd Sat., April 3rd in the fifth seed vs. fifth seed duel at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Stevens has on his roster a 6'9", three-position player in sophomore Gordon Hayward .
Hayward scored 22 points, just about half came in the paint, in the Bulldogs' 63-56 victory over second-seeded Kansas State Wildcats in the Elite 8.
Hayward's game is reminiscent of a player who has given the Spartans fits in the past—Purdue's Robbie Hummel .
Stevens' 6'3" sophomore sensation Shelvin Mack likes to shoot the long-ball (38 percent conversion rate). Mack, a native of Lexington, Ky., shot 3-for-6 against K-State in the Elite 8—and timely ones at that.
And that could pose a slight problem for the Izzo clan. The Spartans have had a year-long struggle defending the perimeter shots, and somehow have managed to escape elimination in thrilling fashion without their floor-general and defensive menace Kalin Lucas.
Lucas, Izzo's 6'1" junior point-guard, underwent surgery to repair his ruptured Achilles' tendon, and by all accounts, his Tuesday procedure was a great success.
There is the size vs. size facet that will come into play Saturday. Michigan State has it, Butler doesn't.
Stevens' rotation lacks a true big-man, but it does have the 6'11" Indianapolis native Andrew Smith. The freshman played only 12 minutes against the Wildcats (in the Elite 8), but he could likely see up to 20 against the likes of Garrick Sherman, Delvon Roe, Draymond Green and the Detroit freshman wide-body himself; Derrick Nix .
And then, there is the experience factor.
Izzo obviously has the edge over his 33-year old counterpart.
Stevens doesn't seem to see that as a problem, and he cited a string of his first games as the reason why. He coached against West Virginia, Virginia Tech and Texas Tech in games four, five and six of his young career.
Final Fours: Izzo 6, Stevens 1.
Size advantage: Michigan State.
Speed advantage: Michigan State.
The Spartans' 6'8" senior Raymar Morgan is having an NCAA Tournament that most players could only dream of. Morgan is averaging close to 18 points in his last 12 games, and has been more than productive in March's madness.
Durrell Summers has made a habit of putting 20-plus tallies on the scoreboard. He piled 26 on Maryland and gave Bruce Pearl's Tennessee Volunteers 21. Both totals were game-high marks.
As seen on Barking Carnival's "Sparty On" blog.