10 Georgia Bulldogs vs. 7 Michigan State Spartans
12:40 p.m. ET, TruTV
Georgia is coming into the tournament after one of its best seasons in recent memory. The Bulldogs secured the 3-seed in the SEC Tournament, and a win today would tie the 2001-02 team for the most wins in the past 18 seasons with 22. UGA scheduled and played well enough in the non-conference that it basically had to not screw things up too badly in SEC play to make the NCAA Tournament, and obviously it managed that.
Michigan State is coming into the game with a seeding worse than a 5-seed for only the third time in the last 11 seasons. MSU didn't look like a tournament team for the entire season, but it finished strong and even made the Big Ten Tournament final.
UGA enters the game as the No. 33 team in the KenPom ratings, while MSU is No. 17. The teams' strengths are reversed in this one. While Georgia is No. 74 in offensive efficiency and No. 25 in defensive efficiency, Michigan State is 14th on offense and 57th on defense.
Both teams prefer a fairly leisurely pace. The Bulldogs average 64.1 possessions per 40 minutes, while the Spartans only manage 63.7. In keeping with the times in college basketball—and the general trend of the games from yesterday—it's not likely that both teams, if either, makes it into the 60s today. Look for both squads to try to keep things under control and not get out of hand.
Georgia did not play any teams quite in Michigan State's neighborhood in the KenPom ratings, which I define as being within ten spots above or below. They did play two games against a team just below it, though, and three games against teams above it.
In a troubling sign for the Bulldogs, they didn't win any of these five games. They did keep a couple of them close, but none of them ended up in the win column.
Michigan State played four games against teams in Georgia's neighborhood plus seven more against teams above it.
|Notre Dame||R||13||MW3||L, 79-78 OT|
|Maryland||H||32||MW4||L, 68-66 OT|
|Ohio State||H||22||W10||W, 59-56|
|Wisconsin||R||3||W1||L, 96-90 OT|
|Ohio State||N||22||W10||W, 76-67|
|Wisconsin||N||3||W1||L, 80-69 OT|
The Spartans went 2-2 against teams of UGA's caliber, although three of the games all came against the same opponent: Maryland. One of the losses to UMD was in overtime at home, but the other was a pretty solid loss at 16 points. MSU was just 2-5 against the tougher teams than where the Bulldogs are at thanks to a pair of wins over Ohio State, but hey, at least they got some wins in there.
Players to Watch
Senior Marcus Thornton leads the way for UGA with 12.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. The team's second leading scorer is Kenny Gaines, who's been limited of late with an ankle injury, with 11.6 points per game. Gaines will play, but he's hobbled by it. Nemanja Djurisic (11.1) and Charles Mann (10.9) also average double figures, while J.J. Frazier is right there as well (9.8). The Bulldogs typically don't get much from their bench, so those starting five carry most of the load.
Michigan State's Big Three are Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine, and Branden Dawson. They average 14.8, 14.5, and 12.0 points per game respectively. They're all guards (or a guard/forward in Dawson's case), and unusually for an Izzo team, only two big men in Gavin Schilling and Matt Costello will see significant time. They'll have their hands full with Thornton all game.
Mark Fox is making his fifth NCAA Tournament appearance, with three coming at Nevada and now two with Georgia. He has won a game twice and lost in the opening round twice in his four prior appearances. He's looking for his first win in March Madness since beating 10-seed Creighton as a 7-seed in 2007. Tom Izzo is one of the best NCAA Tournament coaches alive. This is his 18th consecutive Big Dance trip, and he's made it past the first weekend in 12 of the 17 past brackets. All of his times losing on the first weekend came as a 6-seed or worse, though he did make the Elite Eight as a 7-seed in 2003.
For this year's Georgia team to beat a team of Michigan State's caliber, it will literally be an unprecedented achievement. Getting the Bulldogs' first NCAA Tournament win since 2002 will be a real challenge as a result, not to mention that the limited Gaines is the team's best perimeter defender on top of being a top scoring source.
Beating Michigan State is never an easy task in the month of March, and if UGA was at full strength, this might be a different story. With Gaines not close to 100% and little reason to think the bench will pick up some slack, I have a hard time seeing Georgia winning this one.
Michigan State 59, Georgia 50