The No. 7-seeded Michigan State Spartans face the No. 10-seeded Georgia Bulldogs in a second-round East region NCAA tournament matchup on Friday at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina. Tom Izzo’s Spartans enter the game looking to make a March surge that has almost become customary.
After an up-and-down year, Izzo’s squad won four of its last five games to advance to the Big Ten Championship before falling to No. 1 seed Wisconsin. It appears the coach, as usual, has his squad playing its best at the right time.
"I don't want to be thought of as a March coach," Izzo said to reporters. "I get paid for all 12 months."
Michigan State has appeared in 18 straight NCAA tournaments. Izzo has led the team to six Final Four appearances and one NCAA championship. He’s won 689 games, seven conference regular-season championships and four conference tournaments. The 2014-15 Spartans seem to be putting it together at the right time, like many of Izzo’s past squads.
While it seemed for a bit that Michigan State wouldn’t even make the tournament, now expectations are high again.
“A month ago, I was looking forward to getting in it,” Izzo said at a press conference. “Now I'm looking forward to winning a couple games. That's the truth of it. I think I like that kind of pressure, that, you know, I think our program is at a the level where I think you do have to go down there and win two games, and you have to do it one at a time but we'll be preparing that way.”
Players To Watch
If the Spartans are going to win, they’ll likely rely on the exciting duo of senior guard Travis Trice and junior forward Denzel Valentine. During the regular season Trice averaged 14.8 points and 5.2 assists per game, while Valentine adds 14.5 points and 6.2 rebounds a contest. The Michigan State frontcourt might be overmatched, so the guards will have to perform.
Georgia features some tough big men, headlined by leading scorer Marcus Thornton. The senior forward averages 12.3 points and 7.2 rebounds a game. The Bulldogs could rely on Thornton even more on Friday because star guard Kenny Gaines is ailing with a foot injury. Gaines, who has been an effective and consistent scorer for Georgia, is expected to play. Nemanja Djurisic, a bulky forward from Montenegro, is one of Georgia coach Mark Fox's best weapons. He is capable of knocking down three-point shots and is a solid rebounder.
Keys To The Game
This one might come down to rebounding. The Bulldogs are 24th in the nation in rebounding, and shoot an underwhelming 43.5 percent from the floor, while the Spartans are 36th in the nation in rebounding and shoot a solid 47.1 percent from the field. Valentine and Branden Dawson may need to dominate the glass to prevent Georgia from getting second-chance points. The Bulldogs may have little chance to advancing if they can't get offensive rebounds. A big game on the glass by Thornton and Djurisic might go a long way.
Georgia may also need Gaines to knock down some shots. It's unclear how healthy Gaines will be, but Fox also has J.J. Frazier to rely on for outside shooting. If the Spartans play strong perimeter defense, it might be a very long day for Georgia.