Tuesday, June 25, 2024

MSU men’s basketball eyes upset over No. 1 seed North Carolina in second round of March Madness

March 22, 2024
<p>Michigan State sophomore guard No. 5 Tre Holloman drives the basket during round one of March Madness in Charlotte, North Carolina on March 21, 2024. The Spartans dominated the Mississippi State Bulldogs, maintaining a lead throughout the entire game, with a final score of 69-51.</p>

Michigan State sophomore guard No. 5 Tre Holloman drives the basket during round one of March Madness in Charlotte, North Carolina on March 21, 2024. The Spartans dominated the Mississippi State Bulldogs, maintaining a lead throughout the entire game, with a final score of 69-51.

As the March Madness fever grips households across the nation, Michigan State’s men’s basketball finds itself in a position to shock the college basketball world

Michigan State, the No. 9 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament, will battle No. 1 seed University of North Carolina for a spot in the Sweet 16. The matchup between the two college basketball powerhouses is fundamentally a home game for the Tar Heels, who will play just a few hours from home in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The Spartans’ backs may be against the wall, but they’ve shown they can compete against the nation’s top teams. Saturday will be MSU’s chance to prove it still belongs in Final Four conversations with a win after an underachieving regular season. If history is any indication, anything can happen in March

Men's basketball Head coach Tom Izzo said at a press conference on Friday that this upcoming game is "an opportunity of a lifetime" and are "memory-making moments."

The Spartans handled Mississippi State in the Round of 64 on Thursday, knocking off the No. 8 seed Bulldogs in convincing fashion. They didn’t just survive and advance – they recaptured the heart and soul of Michigan State basketball. MSU pulled down six more boards than the Bulldogs, whose identity all season was its rebounding, and held Mississippi State’s All-SEC First Team guard and center to a combined 24 points on 9-for-24 shooting

Meanwhile, the Spartans shot 50% from the field and 43% from three-point range to deliver Izzo his 20th first-round win in 26 seasons.

While a decent matchup for the Spartans position-wise, UNC earned a No. 1 seed for a reason. The Tar Heels won the ACC outright with a 17-3 conference record, sweeping NCAA Tournament teams Duke and NC State while beating squads like Tennessee and Oklahoma in the non-conference schedule.

Several players on UNC’s roster reached the National Championship game in 2022 as a No. 8 seed in Hubert Davis’ first season as head coach. They lost to Kansas by three. UNC was the unanimous No. 1 team in the country to begin the following season but fell apart and missed the NCAA Tournament altogether

Needless to say, the No. 1 seed Tar Heels have a chip on their shoulder heading into Saturday and possibly beyond

“To be the best, you’ve gotta beat the best,” Izzo said. “I think (UNC has) earned the right to be a great program. Hubert’s done a great job when you look at his years and going to a Final Four his first year.”

UNC is led by upperclassmen R.J. Davis – a quick, savvy guard averaging 21.4 points per game – and center Armando Bacot, who averages a double-double. Both were starters on the national runner-up squad two years ago and knows what it takes to make another run into April. Nonetheless, as it showed against Mississippi State phenom Josh Hubbard, Michigan State has the guards to defend Davis on the perimeter

Bacot, on the other hand, poses some problems for a Michigan State group lacking presence in the paint. The 6-foot-11 graduate student can score, defend and rebound at will when allowed — the kind of player who is the biggest matchup threat for this MSU team. Mississippi State’s Tolu Smith III fell into that category but was held to just nine points and a whopping two rebounds by the Spartans’ center group on Thursday

The good news for MSU: it’s had to deal with a physically imposing big man in more contests than not this season. Also, the Spartans twice faced 7-foot-4 Zach Edey from Purdue: the most difficult load for frontcourts in college basketball

“Bacot obviously brings a little bit different of a challenge ... I think it gives us a little advantage playing Edey a couple of times and being able to bump and bang with him,” MSU’s Malik Hall said Friday. “Bacot’s a different player, a little more agile I’d say, a little more bump-and-bang. I think it’ll be interesting and it’ll help a little bit, having that experience in the past.”

UNC’s starting lineup also features double-digit transfer scorers in guard Cormac Ryan from Notre Dame and forward Harrison Ingram from Stanford. Following them off the bench is a handful of contributing role players: freshman guard Elliot Cadeau, sophomore guard Seth Trimble and senior forward Jae’Lyn Withers.  

The Spartans undoubtedly have their work cut out for them against the No. 4-ranked team in the country. The Tar Heels are second to MSU in Final Fours reached since 1999 with seven. Izzo’s teams are winless against UNC in March Madness, including a 17-point loss to the Tar Heels in the 2009 National Championship in Detroit

But Izzo and his squad know they have what it takes to be traveling to Los Angeles next weekend

“Yes, we haven’t beaten (UNC) in the NCAA Tournament," Izzo said. "But you know what? We’re gonna still show up. We’re gonna show up tomorrow and we’re gonna see what we can do. I don’t look at us as a No. 9 seed; some of that’s my fault. And I do look at them as a No. 1 seed.”

Michigan State and North Carolina will tip off at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 23 at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte. CBS will air the game

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