There is only one game in the Sweet 16 matching conference tournament champions, and it’s Thursday night’s West Region semifinal in Phoenix as fourth seed and Big East Tournament champion Louisville (28-9) faces Big Ten tourney king and top-seeded Michigan State (29-7). The winner gets the Florida-Marquette winner on Saturday for a trip to the Final Four.
Louisville vs. Michigan State Betting Story Lines
The Cardinals are starting to look a lot like UConn did last year on the way to the Big East tourney title and National Championship. Louisville limped into the conference tournament having lost three of its last four regular-season games but then swept through the Big East Tournament with four straight wins. Louisville then beat No. 13 Davidson, 69-62, in its opening NCAA Tournament game and then held off No. 5 seed New Mexico, 59-56. It’s UL’s first berth in the regional semifinals since 2009 – it was one-and-done the past two NCAA Tournaments.
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Michigan State also entered the NCAA Tournament a bit off, losing its final two regular-season games before sweeping its way through the Big Ten Tournament field. Sparty had no trouble in its Big Dance opener, stomping No. 16 LIU-Brooklyn, 89-67. No. 9 Saint Louis put up a good fight in the Round of 32 before falling, 65-61. Big Ten Player of the Year Draymond Green had 16 points and 13 boards against the Billikens (after a triple-double in the opening game), including a key assist on a late Keith Appling three-pointer. The Spartans are in the Sweet 16 for the 10th time in the last 15 seasons under Head Coach Tom Izzo.
The Spartans usually advance far and don’t get upset in this tournament when a No. 1 or No. 2 seed – this is the fifth time they have been one of those two under Izzo. Once, they won the title. Once, they lost in national semifinals to a No. 2 seed. Twice, they lost to more highly-regarded No. 1 seeds.
This will be a totally different game for Michigan State than the Saint Louis matchup was. The Billikens slowed it down and made it a half-court game, while Louisville is all about full-court pressure and an up-tempo game. It’s not a style many Big Ten teams play. Louisville probably has more guard/wing depth and athleticism than Michigan State, but Sparty will have the edge on bulk inside with Adreian Payne, Derrick Nix and Green against 6-11, 235-pound Louisville center Gorgui Dieng.
The key could well be MSU point guard Keith Appling. He’s been up-and-down this season, but no doubt the Cards will focus on stopping Green. Since the field expanded in 1985, he has more combined points (40), rebounds (20) and assists (16) than any other player in his first two games of an NCAA Tournament. Appling did step up against Saint Louis with a game-high 19 points, his second-best effort in the past 22 games. Appling scored 13 of Michigan State's final 20 points, including four critical free throws on six attempts. He will also have to handle that Louisville press. He will need to hit his three-pointers in this game and has struggled from long range this season.
This will be the first meeting between the teams since No. 2 seed MSU upset No. 1 seed Louisville by 12 points in the Midwest Regional final in 2009 in Indianapolis. That got the Spartans to the Final Four in Detroit. That is the only career meeting between Izzo and Louisville Coach Rick Pitino.
Louisville vs. Michigan State Betting Odds and Key Trends
Michigan State is a 4.5-point favorite with the total at 124.5 on college basketball odds. Louisville is 20-13-1 ATS overall this season and 6-0 ATS in neutral-site games (all SU wins as well). MSU is 22-11 ATS overall and 5-2 ATS in neutral sites (same record SU). ‘Over/under’ records: UL 14-20, MSU 16-16-1.
The Cardinals are 5-0 ATS in their past five games after a win. But they are 0-6 ATS in their past six games against Big Ten opponents. MSU is 8-2 ATS in its past 10 games after an ATS loss. The Spartans have covered just three of their past 10 games as a favorite in a neutral-site game. The under is 4-0 in Louisville’s past four games. The over is 5-0-1 in MSU’s past six non-conference games.
Sweet 16 Free Picks: Louisville vs. Michigan State Betting Prediction
Izzo is 7-2 in the Round of 16, but he's never had just three days to prepare for a regional semifinal. The Cardinals were already in Arizona practicing on Monday after beating New Mexico on Saturday night (MSU was on the Friday-Sunday schedule last week). MSU flew to Phoenix on Monday night. That Louisville pressure didn’t get to Sparty three years ago, and I think that MSU handles it again (Green is the only current Spartan who played in that game).
Actually, the Spartans handled it so well the last time that Pitino called it off early on and focused on half-court defense. But Izzo says he expects the pressure this time. Louisville is seventh in the nation steals, averaging nine per game. Its ability to create turnovers — 16 per contest — and turn them into easy buckets helps make up for a team that ranks 252nd in the nation in three-point shooting (31.3 percent). But the Cards are terrific at defending the three-pointer. Including the Big East Tournament, no team has shot more than 21 percent from behind the arc against the Cards. New Mexico, which shot 38 percent on the season, made just 5-of-23 three-point attempts Saturday.
The Big Ten is simply a better conference this year than the Big East. Thus I’m taking the Big Ten champ here – give the points and take the over.
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