What You Need to Know About Michigan State
By Matthew Wieselthier
The challenges don’t end for Syracuse (22-13) as the Orange now get to face off against the Michigan State Spartans (30-4). History is on the side of Syracuse, as Jim Boeheim is 4-1 against Tom Izzo. However, that one win for Izzo was in the 2000 Sweet Sixteen on the way to a National Championship.
Time to Hit the Lottery
Despite all the madness in March, in general, the teams with the most talent are the ones that go the furthest. Michigan State is a top-five team in the NCAA Tournament when it comes to talent, particularly with NBA-ready players. Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. are both potential lottery picks in this upcoming draft and for good reason. In his sophomore campaign, Bridges has turned into a leader for the Spartans. He leads the team in scoring with just over 17 points per game, along with seven rebounds and almost three assists per contest. Even with those impressive numbers, Bridges isn’t even the highest-rated prospect on this team. Jaren Jackson Jr. is showing off his potential at the next level as a 6-11 forward with athleticism and range. Jackson averages just over 11 points and about six rebounds per game and has been a consistent presence on the inside this season.
Balance is Key
Bridges and Jackson may be the headlines for this year’s Spartans, but it is a team effort from Tom Izzo’s squad that is what makes them such a dangerous team. Once again, the Orange is dealing with a team that is much deeper than it, as Michigan State will use as many as 11 players in an average game. The large rotation is led by underclassmen, particularly in the starting lineup. Bridges and Jackson are joined by three sophomores in Cassius Winston (12.6 PPG, 6.9 APG), Joshua Langford (12.0 PPG, 2.9 RPG) and Nick Ward (12.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG). In total, eight Spartans play at least ten minutes per game, and of all the reserves, SU may want to keep a close eye on Xavier Tillman. The freshman forward has been a key part of the MSU rotation of late, particularly on the defensive end. In three of the last four games Michigan State played, Tillman had three blocks.
The Head Man “Izzo” Problem
While Jim Boeheim may have the overall series advantage over Tom Izzo, the two haven’t met since 2010. Izzo is one of the best head coaches in NCAA history and it will certainly be interesting to see two of the great minds of college basketball go head-to-head. Izzo has been with the Spartans since 1995, and he has brought Michigan State to the NCAA Tournament every single season since the 1997-98 campaign. Not only that, but not once has Izzo dealt with a losing record in his coaching career. The head man is one of the best adjusters in the NCAA, especially changing his style along with whatever team he is given that particular season. In the past, Izzo has generally based his teams around seniority and making sure there is a veteran leader. This year, his leader is a sophomore in Miles Bridges. And Sparty hasn’t missed a beat.
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