Michigan State is back in the Final Four for the 5th time in 11 seasons. But yet, it seems like it's been less often than that, and that's true as well - this is "just" Michigan State's 2nd appearance in the last 8 seasons. And Vegas doesn't seem to like their chances all that much. Of course, conference efficiency margin tells a different story:
| Team|| Conference EM|
| North Carolina||+0.15|
| Connecticut|| +0.15|
| Michigan State|| +0.13|
| Villanova|| +0.09|
The oddball here is Villanova - over the last four seasons, no team had made it to the Final Four with an efficiency margin under 0.10. But even considering that, when you're talking about two games, anything can happen with teams this evenly matched.
The Spartans' first opponent is Connecticut, one of the tallest teams in the country. Not only does that mean they are tough to score on in the paint (where the Spartans prefer to play), but it also means that they are tough to stop in the paint. Like Michigan State, the Huskies don't like shooting 3s either, as they toss up 3s on under a quarter of their possessions (and why would you, with this front line?). That's not great news for the Spartans, who are much better at guarding the perimeter than they are at locking down the paint.
Michigan State might be in a good position to dominate the glass, however. UConn was 5th in the Big East in defensive rebounding percentage. That doesn't sound so terrible, but their 67.2% mark would have left them in 9th in the Big Ten. The Huskies also aren't great on the offensive glass, recovering just 32.8% of their misses. This is all good news for Michigan State, one of the nation's elite rebounding teams. UConn isn't a great shooting team (49.8 eFG in conference play), so there figures to be a fair amount of missed shots in this one. If there are, MSU could roll.
Where the Huskies really make their living, however, is on defense. It's not difficult to figure out the gameplan either - opponents shot just 41% from 2 point range in conference play against the Huskies this season. And Jim Calhoun has leveraged that shotblocking threat into excellent perimeter defense as well - opponents shoot just 30% from 3 on their infrequent attempts. You might wonder why opponents devote just 30% of their field goal attempts to 3s, given the shotblocking monster occupying the paint. Well, UConn has a similar strategy to that of last year's Stanford team, which was anchored by a pair of shotblockers - have the guards play close on the ball, and know that if any blowbys occur, there's five fingers of Hasheem waiting for any layup attempts.
There's really only one are where this team is really bad - forcing turnovers. That's good news for a Spartan team that can get careless with the ball. UConn doesn't really care about forcing turnovers, because it's not like the other team is going to make many shots anyways.
The game plan seems simple for Izzo's team then - stick with what you know. Izzo has been hanging his hat on rebounding for his entire career, and it's worked out pretty well. This game promises to feature oodles of missed shots, which are the "at bats" for a Tom Izzo offense. I think this contest will come down to the glasswork, and whether or not MSU can grab enough putbacks to offset all of their misses.
Oh, and Izzo Depth should also be a factor. The Huskies go to the line, a lot. And they're the best team in the country in terms of limiting opponent free throw attempts. Expect a disparity.
Also - be sure to check out the other Big Ten team that is still alive - Penn State goes up against Notre Dame in the NIT Semifinal at 8 pm CT tonight.