We’re looking ahead to this weekend’s Final Four matchup between Texas Tech and Michigan State. Who better to ask about Spartan basketball than the professionals at our sister-site, The Only Colors?
First of all, welcome (back) to the Final Four! If my counting is right Michigan State has 10 Final Four appearances under their belt, what is the pulse of the Spartan fanbase?
People are beyond excited. Because of the nature of college athletics, there is a whole group of students who are enjoying tournament success for the first time. But even the older fans have really taken to this team. There have been a lot of comparisons to the 2009 team, one that reached the championship game. Beating Duke was cathartic for the fanbase. There was a feeling of dread from the moment the brackets were released that there was only one way the season would end, and it would be in the Elite Eight. That was legitimately the biggest win in a decade for the program.
MSU isn’t a surprise to most that have been keeping tabs on their season. With a 32-6 overall record, taking control of the Big 10, and coming off of this huge win over Duke: who are the players that Texas Tech fans should know? Who is the go-to, who is the unsung hero, who is the wildcard?
Everyone should know Cassius Winston by now. It’s kind of tough to describe Winston to someone who hasn’t watched him regularly, but he really is the perfect college guard. He doesn’t have any one physical attribute that makes him special outside of his vision and mind. His shot is ugly, he’s not that fast, he can’t jump, but on the court there is nowhere he can’t get. After Winston, MSU relies on big play from seniors Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins. They may be the two most well-rounded players on the roster. Sophomore Xavier Tillman has been the biggest emerging star for MSU in the tournament, he may end up being the guy in a few years that everyone says “he’s still in school?”
Analytics is an important piece of the game, but certainly not everything. KenPom currently has Michigan State as an overall 3rd with an AdjO at 5 and an AdjD at 8; Texas Tech is an overall 5 with an AdjO at 30 (-25 to MSU) and an AdjD at 1 (+7 to MSU). Should fans pay attention to these numbers? Why or why not?
You should always pay attention to the numbers. They aren’t predictive, but they are a clear sign of style and past success. In this case, no one should be expecting a pretty game. If this was a regular season game, I’d lean even heavier on the numbers. But in the NCAA Tournament, there is an unquantifiable pressure and change to the game. Like any other stat, the KenPom rankings give a great idea of who these teams are, but it’s impossible to know how they will play against each other.
What about this game brings you the most excitement? What matchups are you looking forward to and what about Texas Tech makes you nervous?
From a Michigan State perspective, the most exciting aspect of this game is just how many ways MSU can get the job done. They have won inside and out, defensively and offensively, as dogs and favorites. There are a couple of matchups I want to see play out, first - how will TT defend Winston. They are a great defensive team, but their best perimeter defense isn’t the kind that hurts Winston the most. There is a way to do it, but it’s a different game plan than what I’ve seen from TT so far. Additionally, I’m excited to see how MSU will defend Jarrett Culver. I think it will be a multi-person process, but it will be interesting to see play out.
Izzo and Michigan State are no strangers to the limelight, but what can you tell us about Michigan State that the media doesn’t capture?
Did you know that Cassius Winston almost went to Harvard? Or that Kenny Goins was a walk-on? Those fun facts have become almost running jokes among MSU fans because of how over-mentioned they are. But in all honesty, MSU doesn’t get enough credit for how athletic they are. They don’t have the high-flyers of previous years, but McQuaid, Tillman and Aaron Henry can do some special things. Also, Izzo sucks up a lot of the oxygen, but this is very much a player-lead team during games. Winston all but runs the show, and it’s pretty common for players to take over a huddle and draw things up. Even Joshua Langford has become a coach during his recovery, taking a big role with helping the guards.
Finally, what’s your prediction for this game?
“Oh, you think darkness is your ally. But you merely adopted the dark; I was born in it, molded by it.”
Texas Tech’s defense is that good. This is a game that may not be the most aesthetically pleasing for outside observers. But that’s an extremely comfortable place to be for Michigan State, which is undefeated against their other top-10 KenPom defenses, going 6-0. Not only can they find ways to score just enough, their defense can go toe-to-toe with just about anyone. It’s been a central feature in the program Izzo’s entire career, players don’t see the floor until they can play defense. Michigan State 70 - Texas Tech 65.
hm... about that prediction...
HUGE thanks to The Only Colors managing editor Kyle Thele for corresponding with us. You can give Kyle a follow on twitter @Thele10