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FINAL FOUR PREVIEW: CONNECTICUT VS MICHIGAN STATE
April 4, 2009

SCS.com Connecticut arrives in Detroit as expected considering they are one of the most talented teams in the country. Michigan State will be the fan favorite playing in Michigan. Both teams play outstanding team basketball, albeit Connecticut has the more talented players. However you do not reach the Final Four without talent, so needless to say Michigan State is not going to simply settle for reaching Detroit. Both teams play a rugged style, but Michigan State prefers a slower paced game. Tempo could dictate the outcome.

THE MATCHUP: (1) CONNECTICUT VS (2) MICHIGAN STATE

HOW THEY GOT HERE

Connecticut

Paragraph – The Huskies cruised into the Sweet Sixteen before dispatching of Purdue and Missouri. Their last two games were very impressive considering the contrast in style between the Boilermakers and Tigers. Connecticut responded well in both cases to reach the Final Four. Connecticut got a big boost off of the bench from Kemba Walker who went for 23 points to help the Huskies survive 17 turnovers against Missouri. The Tigers were also able to lure Hasheem Thabeet away from the basket drastically reducing how effective the big man played.

Michigan State

Paragraph – Certainly no one is shocked that the Spartans are in Detroit, but no one expected them to dismantle Louisville in the fashion they did on Sunday. After an easy win over Robert Morris in the opener, Michigan State had two battles against USC and defending National Champion Kansas. These two tight games make the win over Louisville that much more surprising. Goran Suton was instrumental in the victory as he scored from all over the court, his range could be a big factor against Thabeet. Kalin Lucas has been as steady as any guard in the tournament and sparks the Spartans when they seem to stall.

MOST COMPELLING STORYLINE

The Storyline

Paragraph – Two of the best and most successful coaches in college basketball history lead their teams into Detroit. Both Jim Calhoun and Tom Izzo have won National Championships, but it is how they can control the tempo that could go a long way in this match. Both teams play tough defense and rebound very well, the Spartans crash the boards better than any team in the country. However, it will be interesting to see how they do so against a player with Thabeet’s size and prowess in the paint. That being said, Michigan State will want to play this game at a slower rate and limit the number of possessions, while Connecticut would not mind forcing the play a little bit more. Depending on which coach can get his team to dictate the tempo to their advantage could give their team a big edge.

MOST COMPELLING INDIVIDUAL MATCHUP

Hasheem Thabeet (Connecticut) vs Goran Suton (Michigan State)

Paragraph – Kalin Lucas could be the player that ultimately decides the game depending on how he matches up with Connecticut’s backcourt, but it is hard to avoid the battle in the paint. Or shall we say away from the paint. Goran Suton has to duplicate his play against Louisville, drawing Thabeet away from the basket with his range. Suton has the ability to hit the 15 foot jumper and three point shot on a regular basis. If he is doing so, Connecticut will be losing a major force on the defensive end. Michigan State also play phenomenal defense which means Thabeet has to give the Huskies more offensively than he has in this tournament,

STRENGTHS

Connecticut

Connecticut’s strengths clearly revolves around its talent, athleticism, and size. Other than North Carolina, perhaps no team has more talent than the Huskies. Upfront, they have the aforementioned Thabeet, Jeff Adrien, Stanley Roberts, and Gavin Edwards. This quartet makes life very difficult for opponents thanks to their athleticism. However, it is their backcourt that makes this machine move forward. A.J. Price, Craig Austrie, and Kemba Walker are all NBA prospects and go 120 MPH from start to finish. Price is perhaps the most important player for the Huskies as he will need to push the tempo.

Michigan State

The Spartans’ strengths obviously stem from its defense and rebounding. Opponents have to make every opportunity count because there are not many second chances against the Spartans. Also on the defensive end, Raymar Morgan who has spent much of the season either injured or ill is an absolute lockdown defender. His ability to neutralize one of Connecticut’s big scorers is a major factor in this Final Four contest. Michigan State also takes care of the ball. Against Rick Pitino’s tenacious defense, Michigan State had nearly twice as many assists as they did turnovers.

WEAKNESSES

Connecticut

With the injury to Jerome Dyson, they are not quite as deep as they would like, but certainly still a deep team. Honestly they do not have many weaknesses. Their one Achilles heel could be turnovers. They showed trouble in keeping their possession against Missouri with 17 turnovers. The Huskies’ other problem at times could be from beyond the three point circle, this was on display in a 2-12 effort against Missouri as well. In a game where possessions could be limited, making their shots from three will be important.

Michigan State

Paragraph – Michigan State does not have nearly the athletic ability as Connecticut. This is a big reason why they like playing their games in the sixties and seventies. If Michigan State does not dictate the style of play, Connecticut has the ability to run them out of the gym. The Spartans also have trouble putting points on the board, partly because of style, but also thanks large in part that they simply do not have a slew of scorers that they can trot out one after the other.

WHAT IT COMES DOWN TO

For the Huskies to win...

Paragraph – Play their game. If Connecticut can get out a run a little taking advantage of the athletes on their roster, then they will win. If they get caught in a contest that is played in the sixties, they will be in trouble. They also need to control the boards. On the offensive glass, the more opportunities they get, the more it will crush Michigan State’s spirit on the defensive end. They also need to control the defensive glass because of Michigan State’s inability to score the basketball. If they give up second chances, they are increasing the Spartans’ chances for offensive opportunities.

For the Spartans to win...

Paragraph – Dictate the style of play, it’s that simple. This game needs to be played with each team scoring fewer than eighty for Michigan State to win. Izzo’s squad prides its self on the defensive end and certainly on the defensive glass. As mentioned before, this is the most important part of the game. The team that gets the most second chances will win, and this especially goes for Michigan State. Goran Suton also must lure Hasheem Thabeet away from the basket, which will greatly increase their odds on the boards. Thankfully Suton has very good range for a center and could very well be the key for the Spartans.

THE BOTTOM LINE

It has been mentioned over and over, win the battle on the boards, dictate the style, and you will win the game. One thing to keep an eye on is the location. Connecticut is the favorite and their fans will turnout, but the game is played in Detroit, only a couple of hours from East Lansing. There will certainly be a lot of green in the crowd and should they advance to the title game, there will be even more as Spartan fans will by the losing teams’ tickets.

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