Michigan State's guards, UConn's big men have the edge in Final Four
It will be a contrast in styles in the first semifinal matchup
UConn has the edge in overall talent, but Michigan State has a deeper bench
When it comes to coaches, both are experienced and talented
Michigan State (30-6) vs. UConn (31-4)
This Final Four trip seems more than a little fitting for Michigan State. With Detroit a mere 90 miles from East Lansing, there should be no shortage of Spartans green in Ford Field and on top of that, it's the 30th anniversary of Magic Johnson's historic showdown with Larry Bird. Whatever cosmic forces seem to have carried the second-seeded Spartans to Motown, there's no debate a team that had its share of skeptics opened more than a few eyes with their dismantling of Louisville, the tournament's No. 1 overall speed, in the Elite Eight.
But while the Spartans were able to take the Cardinals' athletic group out of their game with a mixture of stifling defense and Goran Suton's inside game, UConn presents a far different challenge.
The top-seeded Huskies have had their share of distractions this season. There was Jerome Dyson's season-ending knee injury, Jim Calhoun's confrontation with a blogger over his salary, his brief hospitalization and a Yahoo! Report that UConn allegedly violated NCAA recruiting rules -- and still, the Huskies have maintained their focus in winning their tourney games by an average of 25.3 points per game. The Huskies have been getting 20.0 points a game in the tourney from A.J. Price, but the frontcourt of 7-foot-3 Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien have feasted on opponents en route to Detroit.
Michigan State's Kalin Lucas
Despite being Big Ten Player of the Year, Lucas continues to be somewhat underrated. He showed his ability to take over a game in the last two minutes against Kansas and was impressively turnover-free against Louisville's vaunted press, completely controlling the pace of the game. Lucas is at his acrobatic best driving the lane, which could be a problem considering what UConn has inside.
UConn's A.J. Price
Price has been the Huskies' most prolific offensive threat in the tournament, earning West Regional most outstanding player honors, but more defensive attention has taken its toll on his shot (he hit just 34.3 percent against Purdue and Missouri). Despite the D, Price has still managed to come up with big shots when UConn has needed it. He'll see another round of aggressive defense with Tom Izzo likely designating Travis Walton to shadow him.
EDGE: Michigan State
Michigan State's Travis Walton
The only four-year senior on the roster is proving his worth to the Spartans in the tournament. He had a career-high 18 points against USC in the second round and showed why he was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in the Spartans' last two wins, forcing Kansas' Sherron Collins into six turnovers and limiting Louisville's Terrence Williams to five points on 1-of-7 shooting.
UConn's Craig Austrie
Austrie had 17 points in the Sweet 16 against Purdue, but it was just the second time he's scored in double-figures since Jerome Dyson's injury (the other time was in the six-overtime marathon against Syracuse). He's a streaky shooter (35.2 percent on the season), though he can hit the three if left open.
EDGE: Michigan State
Michigan State's Delvon Roe
Roe has continued to develop his game throughout the tournament, to the point where Izzo was running the offense through Roe and fellow freshman Draymond Green against USC in the second round. Still, Roe has been a liability at the free throw line (45.9 percent) and he may have trouble matching up defensively with the more athletic Stanley Robinson.
UConn's Stanley Robinson
Robinson has been an absolute monster for the Huskies since facing Syracuse in the Big East tournament. In the last five games, Robinson is averaging 17.4 points and 8.6 rebounds and he's had stretches where he has taken over games. He's not the marquee name on this Huskies team but if he can draw attention away from Thabeet and Adrien, he could make life unbearable on the Spartans.
Michigan State's Raymar Morgan
Despite his struggles, Izzo is keeping Morgan in the starting lineup. Morgan has scored more than four points once in the tourney (16 vs. Robert Morris) and has shot 30.8 percent from the field. He was woeful against Louisville, going scoreless in his first game while wearing a mask after suffering a broken nose.
UConn's Jeff Adrien
The Huskies' inside muscle loves to bang, but Adrien is most dangerous when he's drawing defenders out to the free throw line, which opens things up for Thabeet down low. Adrien's mix of power and agility are going to be difficult for Morgan (if he doesn't bounce back) and backup Green to handle.
Michigan State's Goran Suton
The Bosnia native has done a little bit of everything for the Spartans in the tournament. He's shown he can score (14.2 ppg), rebound (11.5 rpg), create shots for teammates (2.2 apg), hit the three (he's 5-of-10) and block shots (1.25 bpg). That versatility makes him an intriguing matchup for Thabeet. If Suton can force the UConn big man to step out, it could help to open up lanes for the guards.
UConn's Hasheem Thabeet
Thabeet is unquestionably a true game-changer on the defensive end. His biggest troubles have come against physical bruisers like Pitt's DeJuan Blair, which Suton is not. Thabeet's offensive game is still a work in progress but his presence on defense more than makes up for it. Despite Suton's recent surge, this is a matchup he just can't win if he doesn't draw Thabeet outside or get him in foul trouble.
With Morgan struggling and Izzo trying to lessen the amount of wear on Roe's surgically repaired knees, the Spartans have relied heavily on their bench and it's paid off. Sophomores Chris Allen, and Durrell Summers and Green are all playing at least 20.5 minutes a game in the tournament but UConn's size could force them to go to little-used Idong Ibok (6-11) and Tom Herzog (7-0).
Jim Calhoun has gotten great production out of freshman point guard Kemba Walker, most notably his 23-point, five-assist performance against Missouri. Besides Walker, the only other Husky to see substantial minutes is 6-9 Gavin Edwards, who has stepped in to relieve Thabeet or the forwards. Dyson will be in uniform but won't be available. It will likely give the Huskies an emotional lift, but UConn can't match the Spartans' depth here.
EDGE: Michigan State
Izzo is in the Final Four for the fifth time and he's eyeing his second national championship. He put together a sensational gameplan in the win over the Cardinals and now has to follow it up by preparing for UConn's frontline -- and managing the distractions of a de facto home game. Izzo's teams have a knack for rising to the occasion and he has this team peaking at the right time.
With the litany of distractions surrounding the Huskies, there's little debating that this run has been a testament to Calhoun's control of his team. He put together a pair of impressive counters to reach the Final Four, winning against Purdue's methodical offense and Missouri's non-stop press. The Hall of Famer is seeking his third title in three trips to the Final Four.
The Pick: UConn 69, Michigan State 63
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