Preview: Sunday's game showcases battle between Hall of Fame coaches
Who: Syracuse (22-13 overall)
When: Sunday at approximately 2:40 p.m.
Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
TV / Radio: CBS / 94.9 WMMQ-FM (Lansing)
Line: MSU -8.5
DETROIT — In a battle for a berth in the Sweet Sixteen, only one Hall of Fame coach will emerge from Little Caesars Arena.
Tom Izzo and third-seeded MSU (30-4) will look for a repeat performance from the Spartans Sunday afternoon to earn a win over Jim Boeheim’s 11-seeded Syracuse.
Smothering defense helped the Spartans in their 82-78 win against No. 14 Bucknell Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Sophomore wing Miles Bridges led all scorers with 29 points and sophomore guard Joshua Langford scored 22.
Defense has also helped Syracuse win two straight: a 60-56 play-in game against Arizona State Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio and a 57-52 decision against No. 6 TCU Friday in Detroit. The Orange, which finished eighth in the ACC, feature three double-digit scorers, led by guard Tyrus Battle, who averages 19.7 points, and guard Frank Howard and forward Oshae Brissett, who both average 14.9 per.
Stingy defense has been Syracuse’s biggest asset in most of its wins. Defensively, Boeheim’s 42nd Syracuse team holds opponents to 63.9 points a game, while averaging 67 points on offense. Izzo told reporters Saturday dictating the pace of play might be the key to Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone.
“His zone is maybe bigger and taller and better than ever,” Izzo said. “The size that they present is, I think, difficult for everybody. I don't think many teams have shot it very well against them or scored very well against them.
“And so one of the good things about our team over the years is we were able to play fast or play slow. And hopefully we can speed up the tempo. But they're definitely going to slow it down. And we've got to figure out a way to win whether it's going in a slow-down game and a smashmouth game or whether it's a race-horse game. So I'm looking forward to the challenge. I think our players are.”
Bridges leads MSU and is one of four players in the country to average at least 17.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 0.8 blocks this season. All five of MSU’s starters — which include Langford, sophomores Cassius Winston and Nick Ward, and freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. — are also averaging at least 10 points a contest.
Boeheim said his team’s seven-man rotation will have its work cut out for them when taking on MSU’s 11-man bench.
“They're going to get worn down,” Boeheim said. “They're going to feel it sometimes. You've just got to play through it and go from there. That's all you can do. You can't think about that. You can't think about the negatives in this game. You've got to think about the positives. And this team's been great at that.”
Syracuse leads the all-time series 10-7 and has won five of the last six. The only meeting between Izzo and Boeheim in the tournament, however, favored MSU with a 75-58 win over the Orange in the 2000 Midwest Regional Semifinals en route to Izzo’s only national championship.
The Spartans are 1-2 on neutral floors, but a Detroit crowd might play a big factor in determining the outcome. The winner will play No. 2 Duke next Friday in Omaha, Nebraska.
“I would say that's why they call it March Madness,” Bridges said. “Every team here is good. You can't take any plays off.”
The State News predictions:
Casey Harrison: MSU 74, Syracuse 65
Michael Duke: MSU 65, Syracuse 59