Since the Big Ten Tournament, everyone has been talking about Michigan State. They have finally recovered from injury and won the Big Ten Championship. In the Big Ten Championship, I saw complete domination.
Michigan State jumped out to an early lead in the first half, beating Michigan 38-29. In the second half, MSU did not let up. Michigan State pushed the lead to 18, and eventually won the game by the score of 69-55. Michigan State had out rebounded Michigan by 10 rebounds, had twice as many assists, and completely obliterated Michigan's offense.
Overall, Michigan shot the ball at a 31% field goal percentage! Michigan State, on the other hand, shot at 50% and were great on offense. Their assists totals (14) show the great ball movement, three player scored +15 points, and again, shot 50% from the floor.
In the end, MSU walked away with the Big Ten Championship, and the nation with their jaws on the ground.
Louisville is in the AAC and completely dominated the conference. Louisville cruised to the Championship with an average win margin of 33 points. Everyone already predicted Louisville to make it to the Championship, and with Cincinnati losing in a heart-breaker to UConn, it sealed the deal.
These two teams are both high on confidence as they enter the tournament, and they both are entering at a relatively low seed (4). Michigan State is in the East Region of the bracket, and would have to fight past Virginia, Villanova, Iowa State, and Cincinnati to reach the final four.
Louisville has to fight past Michigan, Wichita State, and Duke. This is no easy route to the Final Four, but it is definitely possible.
The reason I believe so much in Louisville and MSU are for multiple reasons:
1. Coaching - Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo are two great, respected, and experienced coaches. Pitino has won two Championships (2013 with Louisville and 1996 with Kentucky) and Izzo has won once (2000 with Michigan State). Both know how stressful the Tournament is, and how to coach their players during the Tournament. At the end of the Tournament, leadership and coaching might be the two most important keys to victory.
2. Player Leadership - Michigan State has two seniors on their starting line up (Keith Appling and Adreian Payne), one junior (Branden Dawson), and two sophomores (Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine). With each having Tournament experience, the leadership and maturity will be unbelievable for them. Louisville is led by 3 seniors on the starting line up (Russ Smith, Stephan Van Treese, and Luke Hancock), one junior (Chris Jones), and one sophomore (Montrezl Harrell). All five of them were on the Championship team last year, and they all know what it takes to make it all the way.
3. Versatility - Both teams can play many different styles of basketball. Louisville has a great offense (8th best in the nation) and a great defense (15th best in nation), and can play fast or slow. If a team slows the game down, Louisville will play tough, rock hard defense. If a team tries to out score Louisville, Russ Smith will lead the charge and dominate on offense. Michigan State is also very balanced. MSU is 30th in FG% (Nation) and 31st in opponents FG% (Nation). Gary Harris leads the charge on offense, and four out of the 5 starters score above 10 points per game. On defense, they have continually proven to be note worthy. They held Oklahoma to 43% shooting from the field, and went on to beat them by 11. Against Iowa, MSU played great defense, and Iowa shot the ball 35% (First game) and 42% (Second game).
*Note: Iowa and Oklahoma are top ten in team PPG*
4. Individual Talent - In order to win a Championship, a team must have some individual talent. Even the greatest team chemistry must have someone who can shoot or drive to the basket. MSU and Louisville are no different. Louisville is led by great scorer, Russ Smith. Russ Smith averages 18 PPG and shoots 48% from the floor. Beside Smith, Louisville has 3 other starters scoring in double figures. Also, as a team, Louisville is shooting 37% from three, which is a great surrounding role for Russ Smith. Michigan State has Gary Harris, who is scoring 17 PPG, and Adreian Payne (16 PPG). With these two on offense, two other in double figures, and 39% from three, MSU has a lot of individual talent.
In the end, any team can make it the Final Four. In my opinion, MSU and Louisville have the perfect balance of coaching, talent, and defense. I see these two squaring off for the NCAA Championship.