Michigan State is used to being undersized. It’s just a fact they live with and have to overcome nearly every game.
“We kinda take it as a challenge,” junior forward Matt Costello said after the win over Maryland in the B1G tourney. “I feel like we’re not bigger than anybody to be honest with you, because we’re kinda short. But we just do the best we can with the bodies God gave us.”
The Spartans’ Sweet 16 matchup, No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners, are very similar in height to MSU. None of their starters are over 6-foot-8, and the tallest player on the roster, 6-foot-10 freshman Jamuni McNeace, has not appeared in a single game this season. This bodes well for Coach Izzo’s squad.
“We don’t really pay attention to if teams are bigger than us,” sophomore forward Gavin Schilling said. “We just go out and play our game, keep that toughness mentality, that killer instinct.”
The scoring breakdown between the two teams is eerily similar:
Scoring O. Scoring D.
Oklahoma 71.9 62.8
MSU 71.5 63.1
The similarities end at the free throw line. Oklahoma is money when it comes to the charity stripe, shooting an impressive 73.8%. Michigan State, on the other hand, musters a paltry 63%.
Oklahoma’s main weakness is keeping opponents off the glass. The Sooners grab their share of rebounds (No. 15 in the nation in defensive rebounding), but allow defenses to have their way on the boards (No. 308 in opponent’s defensive rebounds). MSU came in at No. 7 in defensive rebounding in the nation this season, despite being the smaller team in the majority of games.
If Spartan fans don’t already know the name Buddy Hield, they will very soon.
The junior shooting guard was the most prolific scorer in the Big 12 this season and is a candidate for the Naismith Player of the Year Award. He can get out in transition better than most and is a finisher around the rim. He also is a sharpshooter from deep, leading the Big 12 in 3-point field goal percentage.
If Hield starts tearing apart MSU’s guards, Coach Izzo might be forced to put Branden Dawson on him. As the team’s best defender, he has shown the ability to guard smaller and seemingly quicker players, most notably DJ Newbill of Penn State. But Dawson will also be needed to crash the boards and bang down low with the not-so-bigs, so Izzo might be hesitant to make the switch.
Get ready for a track meet.
Both teams love to get out in transition, so expect this game to reach the mid-70s. The Virginia game should be a polar opposite to Friday night’s matchup, so if you love grind-em-out, clog-the-paint, 50-point games, then this is not for you.
Prediction: MSU 78, OU 75
Tip is scheduled for 10:07 p.m. and the game can be seen on TBS.