How did Kansas State get to the Sweet 16 and how can Michigan State basketball make sure that the Wildcats’ road ends here?
The Sweet 16 opponent of Michigan State basketball had an interesting road here and here’s how the Spartans can stop the Wildcats here.
How Kansas State got here
What’s next for Michigan State basketball? After a triumphant 69-60 victory of Marquette on Sunday, all eyes shift to the next opponent, the Kansas State Wildcats.
The Wildcats are led by first-year head coach Jerome Tang, who has had a more-than-impressive opening season in Manhattan. Tang and Co. finished in a tie for third in the extremely tough Big 12, with an 11-7 conference record.
After an impressive 12-1 start, Kansas State really started to open eyes with an incredible 116-103 win against then-No. 6 Texas. This game took place in Austin and ended in regulation, revealing the offensive firepower of Tang’s team. They would get all the way to No. 5 in the country later in the year, before slightly faltering in February. This should not detract anything from their season, however, as they finished the regular season with a phenomenal 9-7 record against Quad 1 teams.
Drawing the No. 3 seed in the East Region, K-State was matched with 14-seeded Montana State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Bobcats hung around for a while until eventually the Wildcats pulled away to a 77-65 victory. This led to an all-Wildcats matchup in the Round of 32.
John Calipari and his Kentucky Wildcats stood in the way of Kansas State’s first Sweet 16 since 2018. The game was very much back-and-forth, but a 3-pointer by Ismael Massoud gave Kansas State the lead with 2:19 left to play, and this lead was never given back. Clutch free throws down the stretch by Markquis Nowell sealed the game, and advanced Tang and his team into the Sweet 16.
When breaking down the roster, the Spartans are going to need to contain Keyontae Johnson, and the aforementioned Nowell.
Johnson, a former top-100 recruit and Florida transfer turned in 17.5 points while shooting 51.4 percent from the field and 40.5 percent from three. As a 6-foot-6, 230-pound forward, he provides an interesting matchup for MSU. When he’s on the floor, it seems highly likely that Malik Hall would be tasked with guarding Johnson, yet many other players could contribute as well. Players like Jaden Akins, Joey Hauser, and even AJ Hoggard could mark him at points throughout Thursday’s contest.
Now onto one of the sensations of the tournament so far, Nowell. He is electrifying, bringing 17.1 points and 7.8 assists per game to the table this season. Markquis is the definition of “heart over height”, standing at only 5-foot-8. He’s been turning in consistently great performances of late, including 27 points and nine assists in the victory over Kentucky.
Outside of these two, they get production from Forward Nae’Qwan Tomlin, and Guard Desi Sills.
How the Wildcats stop here
Tang’s Wildcats are hot and there is no denying that. However, if played well, MSU has a chance, and even the upper hand according to Vegas (the Spartans are currently 2-point favorites on DraftKings).
One of the first advantages for the Spartans is the experience of the man at the helm, Tom Izzo. This is Izzo’s 15th Sweet 16 appearance, and he has a remarkable record of 10-4 in the previous 14.
While Tang has had a great season, it’s just his first. Not just his first season at Kansas State, but his first season as a head coach. This should help Michigan State substantially. Izzo will be ready as he’s been on this stage multiple times before, and as a result, will have the Spartans ready to go.
Another aspect that favors the green and white is their insane strength of schedule. Yes, Kansas State played in the Big 12 which was viewed as the best conference all year, but the metrics prove MSU played a little bit tougher. According to KenPom ratings, Kansas State played against the 21st toughest strength of schedule, while the Spartans played the sixth toughest. On top of that, Izzo’s squad played against the toughest offenses in the entire country. This shouldn’t make the Wildcats’ top 50 offense a concern at all, especially after holding the sixth-most efficient offense (Marquette) to 60 points.
Having played the schedule that it did, MSU’s defense has been pretty exceptional. This needs to be the case once again on Thursday. Limiting Johnson and Nowell is obviously vital to the success of the Spartans, but the bigs need to be ready for Tomlin as well. Forcing turnovers is key, as the Wildcats average 14 per game. This will allow the boys to get out and run, which is one of Izzo’s favorite things, the transition game.
Finally, the MSU offense has to come ready to play. After an abysmal 3-point shooting performance on Sunday, the Spartans should bounce back. They entered the contest with the third-best 3-point shooting percentage in the country and shot 2-for-16 against Marquette. Although on the surface that doesn’t seem like a good thing, there is a definite silver lining. That is, they won the game. A team that throughout the regular season was very dependent on the 3-point shot winning an NCAA Tournament game while only making two threes bodes very well.
If Michigan State basketball wants to make it back to the Elite Eight, it will need to arrive at MSG ready for another intense battle. Kansas State has been great this season but there are some flaws to be capitalized upon. They may have the advantage in prototypical star power, but it feels that Michigan State has a more put-together rotation. Guarding their two stars is important, as is bringing the offense to the table. Izzo will have the guys ready to go, hoping to overcome the inexperienced Tang and get a step closer to his ninth Final Four appearance.
My prediction: Michigan State 66, Kansas State 57
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