There are 16 “Round of 32” games on Saturday and Sunday as the most exciting weekend of the sports calendar continues. As we always do every March here at MSF, we try to cover you with previews, informed and reasoned predictions, and pertinent viewing info as soon as we can get it posted.
In this post, we preview the West Region matchup between #1 seed Michigan State and Rick Majerus’ 9th-seeded Billikens of Saint Louis.
Michigan State-Saint Louis Game Info
- Seeds & Region: #1 Michigan State v #9 Saint Louis in West Region
- Michigan State-Saint Louis Date: Sunday, 3/18
- Michigan State-Saint Louis Tip Time: 2:45
- Michigan State-Saint Louis Location: Columbus
- Michigan State-Saint Louis TV: CBS
- Michigan State-Saint Louis Announcers: Tim Brando and Mike Gminski
- Michigan State-Saint Louis Point Spread: TBA
- Tickets: Michigan State-Saint Louis Tickets
- Tickets: West Regional Tickets in Phoenix
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Michigan State-Saint Louis Analysis and Prediction
On Friday night, Saint Louis knocked off Memphis by seven points, while Michigan State used a big second half to blow out LIU Brooklyn. The Billikens were led by guard Kwamain Mitchell, who finished with 22 points and hit a number of clutch shots, and for Sparty, Draymond Green messed around and got a triple-double with 24 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists.
The matchup between the two teams will feature two of the nation’s best defensive units, as both the Spartans and Billikens are in the Top 10 in adjusted efficiency.
When Michigan State has the ball, there are a few things to keep an eye on. First, Saint Louis ranks 31st in turnover rate, while the Spartans are in the middle of the pack, which means MSU guards Keith Appling, Brandon Wood, and Travis Trice will have to take good care of the basketball.
On the glass, Michigan State ranks 25th in offensive rebounding percentage and corrals nearly 37 percent of its own misses. The Billikens rank in the Top 50 in defensive rebounding percentage, but they will have their hands full against the likes of Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne on the glass.
Finally, the one area where Saint Louis has been most vulnerable defensively is free throw rate, as they rank outside the Top 200 in that statistic. The Spartans aren’t elite offensively in that regard, but they do boast a solid 39.1 mark for the year. The Billikens don’t have a ton of big bodies inside to bang with Michigan State, so foul trouble to their bigs could spell trouble.
On the other end, field goal defense will be the key. Michigan State finished the season in the Top 15 against both two- and three-pointers, while Saint Louis ended the year 59th in effective field goal percentage. The Billikens take a relatively high percentage of their shots from beyond the arc, and they’ll need to find ways to get clean looks against a Michigan State team that allowed opponents to shoot just 29.2 percent from deep. Because Saint Louis doesn’t have a high offensive rebounding percentage or free throw rate, the importance of their shooting is amplified.
In terms of individual matchups, Michigan State will need to find a way to contain Kwamain Mitchell off the dribble. He was able to get into the lane at will versus Memphis, and he will provide a great test for Keith Appling on the defensive end.
The coaching matchup here is a great one too, with Tom Izzo and Rick Majerus matching wits on the sidelines. You can be sure Majerus will do whatever he can to neutralize Draymond Green and force other players to beat them.
Ultimately, I think MSU’s toughness on the glass and their inside depth will be the difference, and Izzo will earn yet another trip to the Sweet Sixteen.
Predicted Winner: Michigan State
Michigan State Spartans Team Capsule
- Conference: Big Ten
- Record: 27-7 (13-5 conf)
- Last 10 Games: 8-2
- Record vs. Tournament Teams: 12-5
- Wins vs. Tournament Teams: Florida State, Gonzaga, Indiana, Lehigh, Michigan, Ohio State (2), Purdue (2), Wisconsin (3)
- Losses vs. Tournament Teams: Duke, Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio State
- Player to Watch: Draymond Green (6’7” F, Sr.) – 16.1 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.0 bpg, 1.5 spg, 39.5 3P%
Michigan State Bottoms Line:
The Spartans lost their first two games to North Carolina and Duke, but they bounced back to tie for the Big Ten title and capped off the regular season with a win in the Big Ten Tournament. With strong defense and relentless rebounding, this MSU team has two important characteristics of Tom Izzo’s best teams in his tenure in East Lansing. The Spartans are third in defensive efficiency and rank in the Top 25 in two-point defense, three-point defense, and defensive rebounding percentage. On offense, the Spartans rank just outside of the Top 10 in overall efficiency and are 25th in offensive rebounding percentage.
Senior leader Draymond Green is the heart and soul of the Spartans. He averages a double-double, leads the team in steals and blocks, and is second in assists. Green has developed his game over his four-year career and hit nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc this season. He has also played a role in the development of fellow frontcourt players Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne. Nix has slimmed down and shoots over 55 percent from the field, while Payne also makes a high percentage. Both guys also have strong rebounding percentages on both ends of the floor, and Payne has an impressive block percentage as well. Sophomore Keith Appling has had a solid season in the backcourt, scoring over 11 points per game and leading the team in assists. Valparaiso transfer Brandon Wood improved down the stretch and scored a season-high 21 points in the Big Ten Championship. They need him to step up his scoring with freshman Branden Dawson out for the season, and the same goes for senior Austin Thornton who hits over 46 percent from beyond the arc.
Saint Louis Billikens Team Capsule
- Conference: Atlantic 10
- Record: 25-7 (12-4 conf)
- Last 10 Games: 8-2
- Record vs. Tournament Teams: 4-3
- Wins vs. Tournament Teams: Saint Bonaventure, Vermont, Xavier (2)
- Losses vs. Tournament Teams: New Mexico, Temple, Xavier
- Player to Watch: Kwamain Mitchell (G, Sr.) – 12.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.3 spg
Saint Louis Bottoms Line:
Rick Majerus is going back to the Big Dance with the Billikens, who finished just behind for the A-10 Title. Saint Louis is particularly strong on the defensive end, where they rank in the Top 15 in adjusted efficiency. They rank in the Top 50 in effective field goal percentage defense, turnover rate, and defensive rebounding percentage, and the only area where they struggle is their opponents’ free throw rate. The Billikens aren’t too shabby on offense either, as they rank in the Top 40 for efficiency there as well. They take great care of the basketball and shoot well as a team, which helps make up for the fact that they struggle to get to the line and corral offensive rebounds.
Forward Brian Conklin leads the team in scoring at 13.9 points per game and makes over 53 percent from the field, while also posting a strong free throw rate. In the backcourt, Kwamain Mitchell averages over 12 points and leads the team in assists, and Mike McCall Jr. and Jordair Jett both score at least six points per game. Forward Cody Ellis is the third double-digit scorer and can step out and knock down three-pointers to give the Billikens another offensive threat.
Related: Jump to our West Region Bracket Breakdown
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Then have a fun, exuberant, responsible St. Patrick’s Day celebration tomorrow, enjoying a Guinness or two while watching basketball. What could be better?