PREVIEW: MSU in for defensive 'dogfight' with Texas Tech in Final Four
Who: No. 3 Texas Tech (30-6) vs. No. 2 Michigan State (32-6).
When: Saturday at 8:49 p.m. EDT.
Where: U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis.
Radio: 94.9 WMMQ-FM (Lansing) or local Spartan Sports Network affiliate.
Line: MSU -2 1/2
MINNEAPOLIS — Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has preached two things about defense all season: it travels and it wins championships.
So far, it's held true. According to Kenpom adjusted defensive ratings — which measure points allowed per 100 possessions — three of the remaining four teams in the NCAA Tournament are in the top-10, including MSU (90.1). But so does Texas Tech, the Big 12 regular season champions and perhaps the best defensive team in the country.
The Red Raiders are first in Kenpom's adjusted defensive rating (84.0) and hold opponents to an average of 59.0 points per game. They dismantled Michigan — a team the Spartans beat thrice in conference play — 63-44, in the Sweet Sixteen. They also beat Kansas, Nebraska and Texas, all teams MSU faced.
With a play-in to the national championship game on the line, both teams are prepared for a defensive-minded matchup.
"I feel this game is going to be a dogfight," MSU forward Nick Ward said. "It’s two tough defenses. Whatever happens, hopefully, we’ll come out with the win.”
The Spartans are coming off last Sunday's 68-67 win against top-seeded Duke in the East Region finals, in which point guard Cassius Winston scored a team-high 20 points and 10 assists to go with four steals and a turnover. Tech, which reached its first Final Four, outpaced No. 1 Gonzaga 75-69 last Saturday in the Elite Eight.
The Red Raiders held Gonzaga, Kenpom's most-efficient offense (124.5 AdjO), with coach Chris Beard's "no middle" zone defense, which focuses on keeping the ball out of the paint and smothering guards to the baseline.
Beard, a former assistant under Hall of Fame coach Bob Knight, is considered by many as one of the best defensive minds in the game.
"This is what defense can lead to, once (players) kind of visualize and they understand how important it is," Beard said. "It becomes everybody's identity."
But coupled with MSU's transition offense, Beard said he knows bending to the Spartans' style of play could end ugly.
"I think Michigan State's one of the best defensive teams in college basketball, as they are every year," he said. "To me, it's much more than just the rebounding. It's the positioning and the gaps and the toughness, the mental toughness, the lack of mistakes, the players playing roles."
Tech and MSU are two of the top three Division I teams in field goal defense, limiting opponents to 36.9% and 37.8%, respectively. From 3-point range, the Red Raiders hold opponents to 29.3%, 10th in the nation.
Beard admitted earlier in the week he considered Izzo to be an "idol" and throughout the season would show MSU game footage to inspire better rebounding.
"We’ve seen their toughness and how they play," said point guard Jarrett Culver, the Big 12 Player of the Year and Tech's leading scorer, rebounder and assister. "Coach showed us some clips about how tough they are throughout the year."
During media availability Friday, neither coaches talked long about the matchup. But with Izzo's second national title in sights, the Naismith Hall of Fame coach is confident the Spartans are ready.
"The hay is almost in the barn," Izzo, 64, said. "We're ready to go, and I'm sure they are, too."
Casey Harrison: MSU 66, TTU 63.
Chase Michaelson: MSU 65, TTU 60.