Virginia, winners in 18 of their last 19 games, won the ACC regular season title as well as the ACC Tournament but have been disrespected for most of the season. The Cavaliers aren’t your flashy historic program with a long list of NBA players or a ton of banners hanging from the rafters of John Paul Jones Arena. However, Tony Bennett‘s team has taken the nation by storm this season, dominating the ACC and leading the Cavaliers to their first Sweet 16 since 1995. But the chances of them going further, even with the No. 1 seed, don’t look good.
What makes the Cavaliers so tough to beat is their defense. They’re the top team in the country in points allowed, only giving up 55.5 points per game. Virginia plays a pack-line defense where they stack their players inside the three point line and dare you to try and score inside. They allow the offense to pass the ball around the perimeter by not extending outside the three-point line, forcing opponents to take most of their shots from behind the arc.
Where Virginia is most vulnerable is on offense. They do a great job of playing without the ball, and help their teammates get open for easy looks by setting off-ball screens. With that being said, Virginia is ranked No. 294 in points per game. They’re No. 122 in the nation in field goal percentage and have played tight games against teams that can drop buckets. The only bright side for Virginia’s offense, as of late, has been Joe Harris, who is averaging 16 PPG and shooting over 40 percent from beyond the three-point line in his last five games.
Virginia has had a great season; unfortunately, they will run into arguably the best team in the country at full strength on Friday night. Michigan State is loaded with talent and experience. Senior Adrian Payne tallied 41 points and eight rebounds in their second round game against Delaware. Michigan State struggled without Payne, Brandon Dawson and Keith Appling at times this year, but they seem to be getting their groove back.
Since the return of Dawson, Michigan State has gotten back to playing the way we expected this season: the Spartans are 23-3 with Dawson in the starting lineup. His hustle and extra effort are what makes him a dynamic player. He extends possessions by rebounding the ball well and plays great defense, leading the team in rebounds and blocks. In Michigan State’s third round game against Harvard, Dawson had 26 points and nine rebounds.
Michigan State has the upper hand despite being the No. 4 seed. The Spartans feature a well-rounded offense and can cause trouble for Virginia’s efficient defense. Michigan State averages 76.2 PPG, good for top-60 in the nation. They rank 31 in field goal percentage as well as being a top-10 team in assists per game. Tom Izzo‘s squad also has the upper hand in rebounding, ranking No. 70 in the nation for RPG, compared to Virginia at 140, and with Dawson back they should control the boards.
The Cavaliers offensive struggles won’t get easier in the Sweet 16. Michigan State is No. 67 in points allowed, No. 52 in blocks per game and swipe 6.9 steals a night. Gary Harris leads the team in scoring with 17.4 points a night, while three other starters average in double figures. Virginia will need to slow down the game and grind out each possession if they want to win this game.
The key to the game is transition baskets. If Michigan State can get easy buckets in the open court, Virginia will have a very tough time keeping up. The Cavaliers will need to force the game to be played in the half-court and slug it out against Payne and Dawson down low. Unfortunately for Virginia, Michigan State plays in the Big 10 where physical, slower-paced games aren’t uncommon. I don’t see the Cavaliers pulling this one out.
Will the Cavaliers get upset by the Spartans?
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