Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans start off the first slew of NCAA Tournament second round games Thursday when they face Valparaiso at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
The third seeded Spartans are coming off a disappointing 61-58 loss to Ohio State in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament. Derrick Nix notched a team-high 17 points and nine rebounds, and guard Keith Appling scored 16 points, but 12 turnovers were the difference.
Coaches have proven to be the difference in the tournament and Izzo, with his six Final Four appearances in 18 seasons, is Michigan State’s X-factor. Izzo has a career 37-14 record in the NCAA Tournament.
The Crusaders are making their first trip to the big dance since 2004 when they were a 15-seed and fell to Gonzaga.
This year Valparaiso is 14-seed and loaded with seniors like 6’7 forward Ryan Broekhoff and 6’8 Kevin Van Wijk. Eleven of the Crusaders 12 roster spots belong to upperclassmen, and five seniors start.
By comparison, the Spartans have one senior, Nix, listed on their roster.
Broekhoff leads the 26-7 Crusaders in scoring with 15.9 points per game, and guided them to their first Horizon League regular season and tournament championships.
It’s been nine days since Valpo’s last game, as they dropped Wright State 62-54 with guard Erik Buggs’s game-high 22 points and four steals, and Van Wijk notched a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
The winner advances to third round of the Midwest Region, where they will face the winner of No. 6 Memphis vs No. 11 St. Mary's.
The game tips-off at 12:15 p.m. Eastern and will be broadcast by CBS, or watch a free live online stream at the NCAA March Madness official site here.
Betting Odds: Michigan State is favored by 11 points.
Over/Under: 127 points
Prediction: The Crusaders experience will keep them in the game till the closing minutes. Nix and Appling should take over, with Michigan State winning the rebound battle and ultimately the game.
Predicted Score: Michigan State 64, Valparaiso 58