2014 NCAA East: Michigan State vs. UConn Pick

Posted Mar 29, 2014

Quick analysis and breakdowns of the NCAA Tournament games - East Region

2014 NCAA Tournament

East Region - Elite Eight

How are the picks so far? 11-3 SU, 8-5-1 ATS

No. 7 UConn vs. No. 4 Michigan State (-5.5)

UConn might be a seven seed and Michigan State might be a four, but the two superpower programs haven't played or acted like the mid-level seeds.

The Spartans outlasted Virginia in a war, winning the Big Ten-ACC Sweet 16 challenge with better shooting, a huge performance from G Branden Dawson, and by wearing out the ACC champions, but do the Spartans have anything left in the tank? This isn't a deep team – it goes about six deep in key games – and this group is coming off a grueling battle.

UConn had to hang on late against Iowa State, but for the most part, it's been smooth sailing over the last two rounds after needing overtime to get by St. Joe's. The Huskies have lost to just one team – Louisville – over the last ten games, and with F DeAndre Daniels and G Ryan Boatright taking away some of the workload from Shabazz Napier, the offense is clicking.

Physical enough to handle the Spartan strength and toughness, the Huskies should be able to get the timely rebound while being tough in the interior - they're fantastic at blocking shots, even if they came up with just four against the Cyclones.

Fantastic from three and with an aggressive, attacking defense, UConn can battle with Michigan State inside and out, but this is a complete Spartan squad that moves the ball around extremely well and doesn't make a whole bunch of mistakes.

Fine, so who's going to win?: Michigan State 68-65. Expect a classic. These two can each bomb away, and even though there will be interesting runs by each in a back-and-forth battle, the Spartans will match the UConn offense when needed, and unlike Iowa State, they'll hit their free throws.

No. 7 Connecticut vs. No. 3 Iowa State (-2)

It doesn't matter that the Cyclones are banged up; they're getting balanced scoring, lots of rebounds, and they're playing at a high level both inside and out, holding on for dear life against North Carolina and looking just strong enough to keep on rolling. UConn somewhat quietly ripped through Villanova and are peaking at just the right time, hitting well from three, doing a great job on D, and playing with as much confidence as anyone left in the tournament.

In other words, it might not seem like the most scintillating matchup of the weekend, but it could be among the most entertaining.

No one moves the ball around better than Iowa State, leading the nation in assists and creating excellent scoring chances inside while doing a great job of finding the open man outside. Up-and-down, half-court, this offense can do it all, and while the defense might be just okay, and there isn't a fearsome inside offensive presence.

Can Connecticut's defense be enough to stop the versatile Cyclone offense?

Fine, so who's going to win?: Connecticut 78-74. The Huskies have the right mix to stop Iowa State, while they're just good enough from three and the free-throw line to take advantage of every opportunity. Active and aggressive, UConn gets rebounds from all five spots, and no one's hotter right now scoring than Shabazz Napier. Iowa State isn't going to hit 46% from three on this D.
FINAL SCORE: Connecticut 81-76

No. 4 Michigan State (-1.5) vs. No. 1 Virginia

Welcome to the real Big Ten-ACC challenge. The champions of the two respective conferences did it with defense, and they're still rolling right along without too much of a problem, even though Michigan State had to fight a bit to get by Harvard and Virginia had to try for a little while with Coastal Carolina.

The Spartans are healthy, they're showing off some firepower, and they're playing with good balance and toughness as they've rolled through their last five games. With excellent guard play, good ball movement, and fantastic three-point shooting, they're able to work inside and out. But now they play a brutal defense that's outstanding on the boards and better at creating pressure from beyond the arc.

Virginia grabbed a whopping 34 defensive rebounds against Memphis – the Cavaliers didn't allow any second chances – while limiting the Tigers to just 3-of-13 from three. There might not be a ton of offensive blast, but that' by design, getting balanced scoring and timely plays from a good, deep bench.

Fine, so who's going to win?: Michigan State 68-64. It's going to be a war between the two great defenses, but the Spartans have a more complete team and the backcourt isn't going to make the mistakes the Cavaliers need to get by. Missed free throws will cost Virginia late.
FINAL SCORE: Michigan State 61-59

No. 1 Virginia (-6) vs. No. 8 Memphis 
- Who's Got Next? Video Preview of Virginia vs. Memphis

It's not like the tough win over 16-seed Coastal Carolina did anything to make Virginia look like a No. 1 seed.

The supposedly tough defense got bombed on from three, and there were a few too many mistakes, but in the end, the Cavaliers hit their free throws, CCU didn't, and it's on to another day. Memphis also struggled to get out of the first round – IT'S THE FIRST ROUND. WE'RE TAKING IT BACK FROM THE FIRST FOUR – after a hard-fought battle with George Washington.

The Tigers couldn't hit from three, but GW was worse and didn't do enough inside. Sloppy, both teams committed way too many turnovers, and that's not going to fly against the Cavalier defense. Virginia doesn't come up with steals, but it hits the boards hard – usually. The Tigers can't hit from the outside, but they move the ball around well and create their own chance. They need to.

Memphis got shoved around a bit by GW, but it also got contributions from everyone with the guards doing a great job of collapsing and coming up with second chance points. The problem, though, was from three, hitting just 6-of-22 with Michael Dixon saving the day. It's time to get hot against a Cavalier D that allowed CCU to connect on over 47% of its three-point chances.

Virginia's other big issue was getting to the glass. Normally a great all-around rebounding team, Virginia didn't allow much of anything on the defensive boards, but it failed to come up with a single offensive rebound against the strong front line. There can't be so many one-and-dones against the Tigers, who'll transition the misses into points fast.

Prediction: Virginia 68-60. Winning the ACC title and beating Duke doesn't appear to be any big deal now, but it'll come up with a better overall effort against a pesky Tiger team that won't go away until late.
FINAL SCORE: Virginia 78-60

No. 3 Iowa State (-1.5) vs. No. 6 North Carolina
- Who's Got Next? Video Preview of Iowa State vs. North Carolina

North Carolina escaped Providence in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, but getting to the Sweet 16 will be much more difficult.

Iowa State is a strong, driven team that features better size, more athleticism and is known as much for its consistency as anything else. UNC, meanwhile, continues to be a walking question mark, a team with plenty of talent but not enough cohesion on the floor to be dominant for long stretches. One caveat: The Tar Heels may be getting ISU at just the right time after losing forward Georges Niang for the season with a broken foot.

ISU's attack will start with forward Melvin Ejim, the Big 12's Player of the Year, and his angry approach to the game will create problems for UNC's frontcourt, which has been bullied at times. Ejim is a beast in the paint who can also step outside, bringing a swagger to the floor. Now he'll have to amp it up with the versatile Niang out of the picture. DeAndre Kane is tough on the perimeter and will help the Cyclones create mismatches.

The Tar Heels turn to guard Marcus Paige to bail them out when the shot clock is winding down. His creativity is a positive at times, but he also can freelance a bit too much and take UNC out of its game. Leslie McDonald and guard J.P. Tokoto both can score and pass, but they also can defer to Paige too often. Forward James Michael McAdoo is a man inside who will be challenged by Ejim and Iowa State's bigs. If McAdoo isn't aggressive, the Tar Heels will be in trouble.

A close one also favors Iowa State. UNC's free-throw woes are an issue and could be the Tar Heels' undoing.

Prediction: North Carolina 67-63. The Tar Heels might not be perfect, but they're the epitome of survive and advance. They'll struggle, they'll be ugly, and they'll look like they're about to be tagged, but they'll grind their way into the Sweet 16.  
FINAL SCORE: Iowa State 85-83

No. 4 Michigan State (-7) vs. No. 12 Harvard
- Who's Got Next? Video Preview of Michigan State vs. Harvard

The Spartans are heating up at the right time, but they face a huge hurdle vs. an old foe.

Michigan State dominated Delaware in the second round behind 41 points from Adreian Payne while Harvard pulled off a bracket-busting win over Cincinnati by keeping a cool head when it needed it most. The Crimson are a confident team led by head coach Tommy Amaker - the former head coach at Michigan who knows Michigan State's system well.

There's nothing fancy about the way MSU attacks. Guard Gary Harris provides the offense from the perimeter, and his strength and ability to get to the rim will create plenty of matchup problems. He can knock down the long jumper or break an opponent down off the dribble, and the Crimson will have to help one another to keep him in check – it's going to take a team effort. However, that should leave openings for guard Keith Appling to fire from the perimeter. If Travis Trice can be a factor for the Spartans from the outside and provide another weapon, Harvard won't have an answer.

Payne is a man down low, and his length and strength will create issues on the boards and with his interior presence. When he's aggressive, he's a nightmare to guard because he can work in the post or knock down the perimeter jumper. Forward Branden Dawson make an impact on the glass and will help control the tempo.

Harvard doesn't mind playing up-tempo, and it has the guards to do it in Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers, who can run with anyone. More importantly, the Crimson take defense seriously and play quality, fundamental D that rattles teams not used to dealing with such precision. Anything is possible if the Crimson play the same kind of defense that bothered Cincinnati, but the lack of size could be an issue.

Prediction: Michigan State 78-65. Here's the problem – Cincinnati just couldn't shoot. Harvard's defense had a lot to do with it, but Michigan State won't have the same problem, generating points inside and out.

No. 2 Villanova (-3.5) vs. No. 7 Connecticut
- Who's Got Next? Video preview of Villanova vs. Connecticut

Is it better to cruise into the third round with a blowout win or be sharpened by a tight game that keeps everyone focused? We're about to find out.

Villanova ripped Milwaukee in its first game by holding the Panthers to just 28.6 percent shooting and pulling away in the second half. The Wildcats would be just fine with turning in the same type of defensive performance vs. UConn, a team that can shoot the ball and relies on its guards for the bulk of the offense.

On the opposite side, UConn had anything but an easy time with Saint Joseph's, needing overtime and 11 3-pointers to overcome a stingy Hawks squad that refused to bend. Shabazz Napier has to use his quickness to get to the rim and his strength to finish to get through – and he has to be brilliant. He draws contact and can get to the line almost at will. Fellow guard Ryan Boatright brings some balance to the backcourt, and although he doesn't have the same quickness as Napier, he still can be a handful.

'Nova's three-guard lineup of James Bell, Darrun Hilliard II and Ryan Arcidiacono can match UConn's intensity, if not its quickness, but the trio is certainly athletic enough to put pressure on the Huskies. Villanova turns to JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu in the frontcourt. Both are solid rebounders who protect the rim and are just polished enough offensively to be dangerous, while forward Kris Jenkins can come off the bench and can stretch the floor a bit.

UConn is blessed with good size and athleticism in the forms of Phillip Nolan and DeAndre Daniels, and Daniels' versatility can take its toll on bigger defenders. Center Amida Brimah is a huge asset off the bench for the Huskies, and his rebounding and shot blocking will help Kevin Ollie's team inside.

Prediction: Connecticut 77-74. Don't be fooled by the recent struggles; UConn is strong on the free throw line and is solid enough defensively to pull off a big Saturday splash. 
FINAL SCORE: Connecticut 77-65

Second Round

No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 16 Coastal Carolina

- 60-Second Video Analysis On Each Team
Line: Virginia -20.5
Why To Pick Coastal Carolina: The Chanticleers can rebound and they don't mind mixing it up on defense. They might not be careful with the ball and they might not shoot all that well, but they battle well and can keep Virginia in check for stretches. Virginia can't hit the three and is awful on the line.
Why To Pick Virginia: The defense should shut down CCU cold. Yeah, the Chanticleers can rebound, but Virginia is better at it – there won't be the second chance points needed. There will be long, LONG segments of time when CCU doesn't get on the board.
The Pick: Virginia 72-49. CCU won't have enough offensive pop to be get into the game after an early spurt from the ACC champions.
FINAL SCORE: Virginia 70-59

No. 8 Memphis vs. No. 9 George Washington
- 60-Second Video Analysis On Each Team
Line: Memphis –2.5
Why To Pick Memphis: The Tigers have the backcourt and the disruptive ability to screw up the GU offense. Not great from three, the Colonials will struggle to get back in the game if the Memphis offense is himming. With great ball movement and the ability to find the open man as well as any team in the tournament, Memphis should be sharper from midrange.
Why To Pick George Washington: Memphis can't shoot if it's not standing within ten feet of the hoop. There's nothing from the three point line and the free throw shooting is abysmal. GW can't shoot from the line either, so its biggest weakness shouldn't be too much of a problem.
The Pick: Memphis 79-74. This should be a terrific game that goes down to the wire. It'll be a clankfest on free throws late in the game, but Memphis and its tempo will be able to get the job done early, and the D will lock down late.
FINAL SCORE: Memphis 71-66

No. 5 Cincinnati vs. No. 12 Harvard
- 60-Second Video Analysis On Each Team
Line: Cincinnati -2.5
Why To Pick Harvard: No offense, no outside shooting, tough defense - Cincinnati is the perfect fit for the Crimson.Harvard will have a problem with the high-flying teams, but this game should be kept relatively slow with mistakes being the key. Neither one screws up, but Harvard is far better shooting. The Bearcats thrive off of forcing turnovers, but the Crimson don't give them away.
Why To Pick Cincinnati: Yeah, the two teams do a lot of the same things, but Cincinnati does them better. The defense could slow Harvard down to a dead stop, and forget about doing much around the rim. It should be a relatively low scoring game, and the Bearcats will end up getting more done on the boards.
The Pick: Cincinnati 67-63. Harvard will be a trendy pick, but the Bearcats are good, sound and tough.
FINAL SCORE: Harvard 61-57

No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 13 Delaware
- 60-Second Video Analysis On Each Team
Line: Michigan State -15
Why To Pick Delaware: If you're going to face a team like Michigan State, just put the pedal to the metal and gun it. There's no way a 13-seed can slug it out with the Spartans, and Delware won't even with the ability to get up and down the floor enough to make it a dangerous battle. The Blue Hens gave Villanova all it could handle in Nobember, and while there have been some duds along the way, the offense should be able to bomb away.
Why To Pick Michigan State: If Delaware doesn't hit its shots from the outside, that's it – there won't be any offensive rebounds whatoever. This isn't your older brother's Michigan State team – it doesn't get into slugfests. It's more about ball movement and bombing away. Delaware might be able to score, but they can't beat the Spartans in a firefight.
The Pick: Michigan State 81-70. The Spartans will be comfortable, but there will be moments when it gets a little too tight. One or two big second half runs will end the drama.
FINAL SCORE: Michigan State 93-78

No. 6 North Carolina vs. No. 11 Providence
- 60-Second Video Analysis On Each Team
Line: North Carolina -4
Why To Pick Providence: There but for a rough day against Creighton and a tough loss to Villanova, Providence is coming into the tournament red hot. Great on the boards and outstanding on the line, the Friars do a lot of the little things right and could be perfect late in a tight game. They're No. 2 in the nation in free throws, while the Tar Heels couldn't make one if they were standing in the hoop.
Why To Pick North Carolina: Providence doesn't erally play defense on a consistent basis. North Carolina moves the ball around well enough to get the open shot time and again, and they can rebound well enough to get a few cheap second chance points. The Friars won't bother the backcourt.
The Pick: Providence 75-72. It'll be a tight game with North Carolina keeping control most of the way, and then the free throw shooting will start, and then the bricks will come.
FINAL SCORE: North Carolina 79-77

No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 14 NC Central
- 60-Second Video Analysis On Each Team
Line: Iowa State -10
Why To Pick NC Central: Every year there's a team you don't know anything about – Florida Gulf Coast – and so you don't think twice about picking its opponent. NC Central could be one of those teams with a fabulous defense that doesn't allow much of anything and never turns the ball over. The Eagles beat NC State way back in November, and they have just enough of an inside presence to hit the boards and give the Cyclones problem.
Why To Pick Iowa State: The offense could run the Eagles out of the gym. NC Central doesn't hit threes and it won't do enough to take advantage of the Cyclones' inability to block shots. Can Iowa State set the pace early to end this right away? It's possible, and if they can get up by double digits in the first half, it'll be over.
The Pick: Iowa State 79-71. Watch out. NC Central comes in on a 20-game winning streak and could pull off the shocker. In the end, though, Iowa State will be too balanced and too tough down the stretch to escape.
FINAL SCORE: Iowa State 93-75

No. 7 Connecticut vs. No. 10 St. Joseph's
- 60-Second Video Analysis On Each Team
Line: Connecticut –4.5
Why To Pick St. Joe's: For this to work, and for the Hawks to do anything against UConn and in the tournament, the three point shooting has to be outstanding. They can't really make plays on defense, and they're not consistent, but they can bomb their way into the second round if they get hot.
Why To Pick Connecticut: St. Joseph's isn't very good at playing college basketball. It can't hit a free throw – UConn doesn't miss – and it's a disaster when it comes to trying to force mistakes. Connecticut does too much too well to blow this.
The Pick: Connecticut 77-67. The Huskies will be fine in a nip-and-tuck game for around 37 minutes, and then it'll come time to hit free throws, and then it'll be over.
FINAL SCORE: Connecticut 89-81 OT

No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 15 Milwaukee
- 60-Second Video Analysis On Each Team
Line: Villanova -16
Why To Pick Milwaukee: The Panthers might not be all that good in any one area, but the move the ball around relatively well and they can make things happen in a half court set. They have the guards who are quick and tough, and they could catch Villanova looking ahead to UConn in the next round.
Why To Pick Villanova: Milwaukee is awful. The Panthers can't shoot, they can't rebound, they can't defend and they turn the ball over way too easily. Beyond that, everything is fine. As long as the Wildcats don't make a ton of dumb mistakes, they should coast.
The Pick: Villanova 85-67. This is a horrible mismatch that will be as ugly as Villanova wants it to be.
FINAL SCORE: Villanova 73-53