The No. 4 seed MSU women’s basketball team will have their hands full with No. 13 seed Northern Iowa when they tip off in the opening round NCAA Tournament game Sunday in Wichita, Kan.
Like the Spartans, the Panthers are coming off of an outright conference championship, however MSU has dropped two of its last four games and the Panthers are red hot, riding a 19-game winning streak into the field of 64.
One of the keys to MSU’s success this season has been its ability to work the matchups and find the mismatches, let’s look to see if the Spartans have an advantage against Northern Iowa.
The Panthers run a three guard lineup that includes the MVC Player of the Year in Jacqui Kalin. This season, Kalin averaged 15.2 points per game and excelled at the charity stripe, hitting 92 percent of her attempts. The Spartans only run with one true guard in senior Brittney Thomas, however senior forward Cetera Washington and junior forward Taylor Alton are capable of playing either position.
Both Washington and Thomas are able to control the tempo of a game on the defensive end. The duo has combined to shut down some of the most prolific Big Ten scorers.
Edge: Northern Iowa
The Spartans bring their own conference Player of the Year in senior forward Kalisha Keane and junior forward Lykendra Johnson was the Defensive Player of the Year.
Johnson averaged 11.9 points, 8.9 boards and had 123 offensive rebounds on her own. She also has a team-leading 76 steals. Keane, on the other hand, averages nearly 16 points a game and nabbed 75 steals.
Although MSU outrebounded teams by nearly nine boards, this team still is completely different without Johnson on the floor. However, taking on Northern Iowa might be the one time the Spartans won’t have to worry about depth under the basket. Most teams have more size than MSU, but not the Panthers whose tallest player is 6-foot-2, one inch bigger than Johnson.
MSU is able to go 10 players deep, it gets the nod.
MSU head coach Suzy Merchant said her team’s success stems from the leadership. Northern Iowa surely is a fired-up team as well. You have to be emotionally strong to rail off 19 wins in a row. However, you have to count that it plays in a weaker conference.
The emotion the Spartans put into the game have been one of their biggest strengths all season.
In four years as head coach, Panthers head coach Tanya Warren turned her team into one full of freshmen and sophomores, to one with a MVC championship and 19 consecutive wins.
However, Merchant is a coach who has topped the 20-win plateau for six consecutive seasons. Both were Coaches of the Year in their respective conferences, but with Merchant having served as an assistant for USA basketball, I think that speaks for itself.
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