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Round Of 16 Matchup: #1 Virginia Vs. #4 Michigan State

By Michael Ferro

It isn’t a shocker to see that either of these teams has made it to the Sweet 16 this year, but with both teams rolling after two tournament wins, which one can stand out and carry that momentum into the Elite Eight and the final rounds?

#1 Virginia
#4 Michigan State
(credit: Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
(credit: Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
(credit: Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
(credit: Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Coaching
Since Cavaliers head coach Tony Bennett took over back in 2009, he’s helped to shape a new program for Virginia. The Cavs have won 20+ games in their last three years and though they missed the Big Dance last year, they made it to the second round back in 2012. They’ve now gone 18-1 in their last 19 games.
Winner Coach Tom Izzo is legendary not just in East Lansing, Mich., but around the country. Since 1995, Izzo has led the Spartans to a National Championship in 2000, played for the National Championship in 2009, been to six Final Fours and earned seven Big Ten Championships. To top it off, Michigan State has been to 16 consecutive NCAA tournaments under Izzo. There’s good reason he’s known as Mr. March.
Offense
The Cavaliers won their first two games of this year’s tournament by an average of 14.5 points. This marks their first Sweet 16 since 1995. Virginia won the ACC Championship on defense, but their offense bloomed in the first two rounds. The Cavs led by 15 at halftime against Memphis and ballooned that to 27 points late, but they lack a standout offensive player in the tournament.
Winner Michigan State proved with its second-round win over Harvard that it isn’t just one person that leads this team on offense - it’s many. In the first round match up, Adreian Payne scored a MSU record 41 points in the tournament against Delaware. Come the second round, it was Branden Dawson who took the lead and scored a career-high 26 points. In neither game did star sophomore Gary Harris standout on offense, but when he needs to, you know he can. The Spartans are too versatile on offense to lose this one.
Defense
Winner Virginia has now gone 18-1 in their last 19 games by keeping most of their game plan simple: They lock down an opponent defensively, and bully them into playing catch up and guarding their slow and steady, yet decisive offense. Memphis leading scorer Joe Jackson called Virginia’s defense squad the “best defensive team he’s ever played against in college.” Virginia held Memphis to 3-of-17 from the field outside the paint and just 1-of-11 in the first half.
Michigan State’s defense is big, and with big players like Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson to snatch rebounds and eliminate second-chance opportunities, opponents rarely get to make mistakes. The Spartans defense struggled a little bit against Harvard in the second half, but MSU found a way to regain control before it was too late. If Michigan State hopes to put Virginia behind them, they’ll need help from players other than Payne and Dawson on defense.
Bench Depth
The Cavaliers got a ton of help from their bench against Memphis, including top performances by forward Anthony Gill and guard Justin Anderson, who both scored in the double digits. Doing that against an adaptable Michigan State team is going to be tougher for coach Bennett this time around.
Winner On any given night, you can never truly tell which Spartan is going to stand out and make a difference for Tom Izzo’s squad, and that’s just how he likes it. Michigan State’s bench is deep with talent. From Travis Trice and Matt Costello to the three-point threat of Kenny Kaminski, MSU usually has an answer for any situation.

The Winner Is

(credit: Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Winner #4 Michigan State
3 out of 4

This game is definitely going to be a nail-biter, so the squeamish should look away. Virginia has coasted thus far in the tournament, but the Sweet 16 and onward is a whole different beast. The Spartans have tons of experience being in this position as well, so they get the edge there, too.

Michael Ferro is freelance writer and a graduate of Michigan State University where he majored in creative writing and received the Jim Cash Creative Writing Award. Born and bred in Detroit, he currently resides in near Ann Arbor, MI. Additional writing can be found at Examiner.com.

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