Sunday’s game between the Michigan State Spartans and the Kansas Jayhawks sort of has a Final Four feel to it despite it being a second round matchup. March is usually Tom Izzo’s time to shine no matter the Spartans’ regular season performance, minus last year’s first round loss to Middle Tennessee.
Michigan State blasted the Miami Hurricanes 78-58 on Friday, behind 19 points and seven rebounds from freshman forward Nick Ward. Kansas also had little problems defeating UC Davis as the Jayhawks cruised 100-62.
Midwest Region: No. 9 Michigan State Spartans (20-14) vs. No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks (29-4)
When: 5:15 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Where: BOK Center (Tulsa)
Line: Kansas -8
Keys for Michigan State
Against Miami, Michigan State fell behind by as many as 12 points in the first half before turning things around and building a comfortable 38-27 lead at halftime. But the Spartans can’t afford to get off to a rough start against a team as talented as Kansas.
Besides Ward, fellow freshmen Miles Bridges and Joshua Langford played well against the Hurricanes. They will need to maintain that level of performance against the Jayhawks, who are deeper and more talented than Michigan State. Izzo’s team also will have to play tough on defense and own the boards to keep this one from getting out of hand.
Keys for Kansas
The Jayhawks feature a potent three-headed attack in Frank Mason III, Josh Jackson and Devonte’ Graham. The Jayhawks can run with any team in the nation and usually have no problem putting up points.
Not only can Kansas score, Bill Self’s team can get the job done on the other end of the floor too. The Jayhawks allow 72.1 points per game, but some of that is a byproduct of their high-scoring ways as they can be suffocating at times.
It is going to be tough for Michigan State to hang with Kansas for a full 40 minutes. The Spartans will have to make the most of their offensive possessions and play excellent defense to shorten the game. While Michigan State should keep it close in the first half, the Jayhawks’ talent and depth will likely be too much to overcome.
Prediction: Kansas 92, Michigan State 75
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.