The Michigan State Spartans are the favorite in the Midwest region to make the Final Four, and they are a very popular pick to win the NCAA championship.
A team that isn’t so popular is the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders.
MTSU, located in Murfreesboro, Tenn., about 10 miles south of Nashville, earned their bid to the Big Dance after a win in their conference championship game (C-USA), where they defeated the Old Dominion Big Blue, 55-52. The Spartans were already a lock to make the field of 68, but they won their conference championship game anyway over Purdue 66-62.
But if the Blue Raiders want to pull off one of the largest upsets in NCAA tournament history, they’ll have to bring their A+ game to St. Louis Friday afternoon, as MSU is playing some of the best basketball in the nation and is peaking at the right time.
Denzel Valentine has emerged as the front-runner for Naismith National Player of the Year (his biggest competition being Buddy Hield), and recording near-triple-doubles has become nonchalant for the senior. His longtime friend, Bryn Forbes, is coming into the tournament rather cold, as games against Maryland and Purdue, respectively, in the B1G tournament were lackluster.
When Forbes is off from three (second in the nation in three-point shooting), the Spartans tend to struggle. Although they can rely on Valentine to do just about everything, and Matt Costello to do work inside, it might not be enough if the Blue Raiders get hot.
And that’s something that is very possible.
If you don’t know the name Giddy Potts, you probably will after the first five minutes of Friday’s game. He is the best three-point shooter in the nation, ahead of the aforementioned Forbes. Potts, a 6’2″ sophomore who’s made 50% of his threes this season (70-for-140), is the main scorer for the Blue Raiders. But another player that could possibly give the Spartans fits is senior forward Darnell Harris. He shoots 40 percent from beyond the arc.
But that isn’t a knock to the Spartans, who are also playing some high quality basketball. After all, it is March–er, Izzo–and Michigan State always comes to play this time of year.
The aforementioned Valentine is putting up numbers that are on track to put him on the Mt. Rushmore of Spartans. Freshman Deyonta Davis has gotten more minutes and seen his field goal percentage increase. Matt Costello seems to be getting double-doubles like it’s his job. And from Alvin Ellis III to Marvin Clark Jr. to Colby Wollenman, role players are stepping up.
Personally, I don’t think Michigan State will have too big of a problem against Middle Tennessee State on Friday. However, a few things to watch out for will be if Bryn Forbes can get his momentum back, if Denzel Valentine can continue his unbelievable play, and if the Spartans look like a team that is ready and capable of winning a championship.
After all, it’s March, and the madness can strike at any minute.