Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Michigan State men's basketball to take on Mississippi State in first round of March Madness

March 20, 2024
Michigan State senior guard No. 11 A.J. Hoggard looks to make a pass against the University of Minnesota during the Big Ten Tournament in Minneapolis, March 14, 2024. The Spartans knocked the Golden Gophers out of the tournament, securing a spot in the quarterfinals against No. 1 seed Perdue.
Michigan State senior guard No. 11 A.J. Hoggard looks to make a pass against the University of Minnesota during the Big Ten Tournament in Minneapolis, March 14, 2024. The Spartans knocked the Golden Gophers out of the tournament, securing a spot in the quarterfinals against No. 1 seed Perdue.

The Michigan State men’s basketball team survived multiple last-minute bid stealers to secure the No. 9 seed in the West Region of the men's basketball NCAA Tournament, commonly known as March Madness.

The Spartans traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina on Tuesday, March 19, and had an open practice on Wednesday in preparation to take No. 8 seed Mississippi State University for the first round in the tournament. The meeting was the fourth in history for the two teams.

The Bulldogs are 21-13 on the season but are just 8-10 in SEC play. Early on in the season, Mississippi State took down two Big Ten opponents. They beat Northwestern, with a score of 66-57, and Rutgers, with a score of 70-60. Other notable wins for the Bulldogs include 77-72 and 73-56 wins over No. 6 Tennessee and a 64-58 victory over No. 7 Auburn.

Freshman guard Josh Hubbard leads the Bulldogs with an average of 17.1 points per game and graduate student forward Tolu Smith III follows close behind, averaging 15.2 points per game and 8.4 rebounds per game. 

“(Hubbard) really elevates his jump shot,” head coach Tom Izzo said. “I was really impressed. I mean, he can stop and get a shot like that, you know? He's getting a lot of shots. I think he's averaging nine or 10 threes a game. That's a lot no matter who you are, what you are or where you are.” 

The Bulldogs play a physical game that reflects a lot of the Big Ten style of play. They have bigger guys, like Smith, fighting at the boards, allowing them to out-rebound many of their opponents. 

“(The Bulldogs') strengths: size, rebounding, defense, athleticism,” Izzo said. “Weaknesses: not shooting great from the line, (they) don't shoot great from the three. But when you beat Tennessee twice and then Kentucky, they've got enough good wins that we'll have our hands full.”

Mississippi State averages 38.3 rebounds per game, in comparison to MSU’s 34.6 rebounds per game. Still, after out-rebounding Purdue, the Spartans have proven that they can win that battle at the boards against the nation’s best if they put in the effort. 

One of Mississippi State's biggest downfalls in the round one matchup may come in the turnover battle. 

The Spartans have proven time and time again that when they get their defense going and create opportunities to score in transition, they can become unstoppable. They demonstrated this in their 88-64 victory over No. 14 Baylor back in December; they logged a season-high 15 steals and dominated the latter half of the game.

Michigan State has proven its ability to force turnovers, and Mississippi State averages 12.9 turnovers a game. The Spartans average a less-than-ideal 9.8 a game, but if they are able to handle the ball, they may be able to seize the opportunity to survive the first round.

“We've been pretty solid defensively,” Izzo said. “We've been a little better rebounding — those things are critical. Maybe one of the most critical things, that we normally don't do, is we've now turned the ball over a lot … that's usually one of the things that damages. So, players have some tournament experience, the coaches have some tournament experience, and I think we have the potential to have great guard play.”

The Spartans and the Bulldogs will tip off at 12:15 p.m. at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. CBS will air the game.

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