All previews: click here for the full 2015 NCAA tournament schedule
Michigan State Spartans
Conference: Big Ten
Date: Sunday, March 29
Time: 2:20 pm Eastern
Location: Syracuse, NY
There are scores of programs that would kill for a trip to the Elite Eight, and then there are Louisville and Michigan State. One of them will be headed to the Final Four on an off year.
Louisville Michigan State
SportsRatings Power Ratings
Strength: #14 Strength: #15
Median play: #16 Median play: #10
Other Power Ratings
Sagarin(predictor):#12 Sagarin: #14
Pomeroy: #16 Pomeroy: #15
Offense: #64 Offense: #13
Defense: #5 Defense: #47
LRMC: #20* LRMC: #15*
BPI: #14 BPI: #16
Power Rating Derivatives
2nd half/season: #22 2nd half/season: #15
Last 6 games: #21 Last 6 games: #6
Last 3 games: #12 Last 3 games: #5
Consistency: #135 Consistency: #219
This is probably the most even game, on paper, of any in the tournament so far. The power ratings are split down the line as to who should be favored. Our Strength rating takes Louisville by a nose, but using median rather than mean the Spartans are a decent favorite. Sagarin goes with the Cardinals, Pomeroy with the Spartans, but in both cases it's too close to call. The LRMC (pre-tournament) went with Michigan State; the BPI says Louisville.
Michigan State is clearly better on offense, Louisville has a decided edge on defense. Recent play numbers all point to Michigan State as having the better of the two surprise Elite Eight runs.
- Wins vs. tournament teams (7): Ohio St.+9, =Indiana+20, North Carolina+OT, Virginia+2, =UC Irvine+2, =Northern Iowa+13, =North Carolina St.+10
- Wins vs. Sweet Sixteen (2): North Carolina+OT, =North Carolina St.+10
- Losses to tournament teams (7): Kentucky-8, @North Carolina-1, Duke-11, @Virginia-5, North Carolina St.-9, Notre Dame-12, @North Carolina-10
- Other losses (1): @Syracuse-10
Key Info: Three-fourths of the way into the season Louisville was a very good, very consistent team, the kind that goes deep into the NCAA tournament. Then they played their worst game of the season in a loss to NC State, and then 3rd leading scorer Chris Jones was suspended. He returned briefly but missed the last 5 games, and since the disruption Louisville has turned erratic. They're still good enough to beat most teams even on a bad day, led by Terry Rozier's 17.1 ppg.
Louisville struggled to beat UC Irvine but Wayne Blackshear's 19 points helped get the job done. Rozier had 25 in the win over Northern Iowa, and then it was Montrezl Harrell keying the NC State win with 24 points on 9 of 12 shooting.
- Wins vs. tournament teams (10): Indiana+20, @Iowa+14, Ohio St.+3, Purdue+6, @Indiana+2, =Ohio St.+9, =Maryland+4, =Georgia+7, =Virginia+6, =Oklahoma+4
- Wins vs. Sweet Sixteen (1): =Oklahoma+4
- Losses to tournament teams (8): =Duke-10, =Kansas-5, @Notre Dame-OT, Texas Southern-OT, Maryland-OT, @Maryland-16, @Wisconsin-7, =Wisconsin-OT
- Other losses (3): @Nebraska-2, Illinois-5, Minnesota-OT
Key Info: While this ended up being an "off year" for the Spartans, they were really a good team that played very inconsistent basketball, with no better example than the home loss to Texas Southern. The Tigers made the tournament, which should ease the embarrassment a bit, but at the time they were just 1-8. The recovery came in fits and starts, losing twice to Maryland and to Nebraska. It wasn't until the Big Ten tournament that things looked completely all right, with a 2nd win over Ohio State and finally beating Maryland. The Spartans almost had Wisconsin but let them escape. They didn't win any of their big pre-conference games against Duke, Kansas, or Notre Dame, so they didn't have any Sweet Sixteen wins before beating Oklahoma, but they did beat 1-seed Virginia.
Guards Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine stepped up for the scoring honors this year at over 14 ppg apiece; they had 15 and 16 respectively against Georgia. Trice had 23 in the Virginia win and 24 in the Oklahoma game, including 6 of 6 from the free throw line where the Spartans have struggled as a team.
Game Analysis: Neither of these teams is supposed to be here if you look at their seeds, but if you look at the programs and their coaches, then it's pretty clear they belong and isn't a surprise at all. This is Rick Pitino's 12th Elite Eight, his 6th with Louisville. He has reached 7 Final Fours, 3 with the Cardinals. Tom Izzo has reached the Elite Eight 9 times, all with Michigan State, and has made it to the Final Four 6 of those times.
Which team is better, and which one is playing better right now? The first one is a tough question, as the lack of agreement among the power ratings attests. But it seems like Michigan State is playing better at the moment; they had to beat a 1-seed and a 3-seed to make the Elite Eight, whereas Louisville just needed to beat a 5-seed and an 8-seed.
The one thing that gave us pause in picking Michigan State over Oklahoma was the Spartans' free throw shooting. In the end we decided to ignore it for the moment, but we should revisit it: Michigan State is #341 in the nation on free throws, shooting just 62.8%. Louisville isn't that much better, however, shooting 66.7% (#259). In a way it shows how good the Spartans are playing: they beat Georgia despite shooting 57.9% from the line, Virginia while shooting 60.6%, and Oklahoma while making 9 of 16 for 56.3%.
Louisville is great on defense as usual but their offense lags; in particular, they can't shoot the 3 like the great Pitino teams could. Michigan State's defensive "blind spot" is turnovers, which they basically don't get. Other than that, their defense is pretty sound, though they tend to foul quite a bit.
Michigan State by 2
Power rating: spread
Louisville by 0.03
Game-comparisons: % Chance to win
Michigan St: 53.0%
The Strength power rating shows how close this game is on paper: 3/100ths of a point. What's more, when all of both team's game ratings are cross-compared, Michigan State wins the majority. Despite the mean average score going Louisville's way (barely!!), Michigan State has played more good games than Louisville overall. That's also reflected in MSU's superior Median ranking.
The Vegas line reflects Michigan State's recent play, where they've been pretty outstanding over the last 10 games or so. Louisville has been good too, but it's been more up and down for them.
Bottom line: A tough call...even the computers don't agree on who is the better team. But while Louisville is just taking advantage of gift matchups given to them, Michigan State has fought its way up by beating higher seeds. Expect another grind-it-out Spartan win, ending with another sweat-it-out sequence at the foul line.
Final prediction: Michigan State 65, Louisville 61
More previews: click here for the full 2015 NCAA tournament schedule.