Friday, April 3, 2009

Connecticut vs. Michigan State Preview

Two of the best programs in the last decade face-off for the opportunity to go to the national championship and add to both teams' storied traditions. Connecticut was near the top of the rankings all season long, looking like a national championship threat throughout the year. The Huskies struggled down the stretch after losing Jerome Dyson to injury, but they bounced back in the NCAA Tournament -- possibly playing the best basketball in the entire tourney. Michigan State was inconsistent for much of the season, but tournament-tested Tom Izzo had the Spartans ready for the Big Dance. They barely beat USC and Kansas, but then dominated Louisville in the Elite Eight and now get to play the Final Four in nearby Detroit.

If UConn is going to defeat the Spartans and head to the title game, it will have to do several things. First, it will need to keep Michigan State off the offensive glass. The Spartans thrive off of second-chance opportunities, and the Huskies need to limit those chances. Luckily, 7-3 Hasheem Thabeet and double-double machine Jeff Adrien are two of the best interior rebounders in the country. Also defensively, Stanley Robinson will have to continue his role as a defensive stopper against one of the more versatile players left in the Tournament, Raymar Morgan. Morgan is an inside-outside threat who is tough to defend. On the perimeter, the Husky guards have to contain Big Ten Player of the Year Kalin Lucas. He is unbelievably quick with the ball and can get into the lane on anyone. Offensively, the Huskies need to hit their outside shots. A.J. Price is their only consistent outside shooter, but Kemba Walker and Craig Austrie have to step up and knock down a few jumpers. If Jerome Dyson plays at all, that will provide an immediate lift for their perimeter scoring. Inside, Jeff Adrien has to continue to knock down foul-line and mid-range jumpers; he is more physical than either Morgan or Delvon Roe and needs to take advantage of that. The biggest thing for Connecticut might be staying out of foul trouble; Michigan State has a slew of big guys to throw at the Huskies and will not be afraid to go deep into its bench.

On the other side, Michigan State has to take advantage of its depth, both inside and on the perimeter. The Spartans can go five or six deep on the interior, and might need to use all those players in order to get Thabeet, Adrien and Gavin Edwards into foul trouble. Also defensively, the Spartans have to slow down Price. Once he gets hot from the perimeter, he can carry UConn to a victory on the back of a 30-point day. Lucas and defensive specialist Travis Walton will be responsible for keeping him in check. An X-factor for Connecticut is Kemba Walker; Michigan State will have to counter with the quickness of Lucas or the size of Durrell Summers and Chris Allen. Offensively, the Spartans have to try to bring Thabeet away from the basket. Goran Suton can hit the mid-range jumper and might need to knock down a few of them in order for Thabeet not to be an eraser at the rim. The outside shooting of Michigan State will be key as well. The Spartans, like Connecticut, are not a great shooting team, but Allen, Summers and Lucas will have to spread the court and hit three-pointers.

The difference in the game will be Connecticut's size and talent edge inside. I'm not sure Suton will be able to guard Thabeet, and he should be disciplined enough to stay out of foul trouble. Additionally, the Huskies are dominant on the defensive glass, which doesn't bode well for an offense predicated on second-chance baskets.

Prediction: Connecticut 68, Michigan State 63

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