NCAA Tournament Elite 8 Preview- Michigan State vs Tennessee
(6) Tennessee vs. (5) Michigan State
When was the last time you can remember a regional final as unlikely as this one?
George Mason's run to the Final Four in 2006? Indiana and Kent State playing as a five seed and a 10 seed in 2002?
Both the Spartans and the Volunteers are playing without their stars in uniform - Kalin Lucas because of a torn achilles for Michigan State; Tyler Smith of Tennessee because... well... because he likes to carry around guns in a car on New Year's Day. Both teams have had their fair share on distractions this season, Michigan State as the Spartans dealt with a lack of leadership, while Tennessee has dealt with a lack of... well... players, with just six scholarship kids available for a while during the middle of the season, especially in early January following an encounter with the ol' police blotter on an interstate highway.
Beyond those connections, Sunday afternoon's game from the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis will be notable because - after all - this was and is the Midwest Region, also known as the Region of Doom. Kansas, Ohio State, Georgetown, Maryland. If you picked this regional final correctly, then either: a) you are a psychic; b) you are a lottery winner with a knack for pulling off miracles, or c) you just stumbled into blind luck by throwing darts blindfolded and selecting the teams you hit.
However, just because this matchup is unlikely doesn't mean that it won't be entertaining.
There are a lot of things to like about this Tennessee team. Wayne Chism is one of the most underrated post players in the country, and when combined with Brian Williams, the two young men form a quality frontcourt. J.P. Prince can't shoot and turns the ball over too much, but when he is playing within himself - making plays defensively and slashing to the basket, much as he did in Friday night's win over Ohio State - he can be a weapon. Bobby Maze and Melvin Goins are both good point guards, especially when they are aggressive and unselfish. Cam Tatum and Scotty Hopson, who seems destined to be a star in this conference, are athletic scorers that can hit a three.
No doubt about it, there is talent on this Tennessee roster. The problem is that there are times when the Vols look downright clueless offensively.
And if we learned anything last night about Michigan State, it is that the Spartans can really get down and defend when they have to.
The Spartans were really impressive on the defensive end of the floor in the last 10:22 of regulation last night against Northern Iowa. Sparty held the Panthers without a field goal throughout that span of time. Where Michigan State tends to run into trouble is at the offensive end. Without Kalin Lucas to run the show, the Spartans can get bogged down, just like Tennessee. When they are clicking, they have the talent to put up points in bunches, again like Tennessee.
Where this game will be won is with Tennessee's defense. They have athletes and they like to pressure you. If Korie Lucious and company cannot handle that pressure, forcing shots and turning the ball over, the Spartans may be in trouble. However, Tom Izzo is a proven tournament coach who knows how to dissect defenses in the Elite Eight round, gauging an opponent's weaknesses with very little time to prepare.