Michigan State vs. Marquette is what March is all about. Two teams playing their best basketball at the right time now on a collision course with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line.
Michigan State handled USC from start to finish on Friday afternoon, and it did so by being the tougher and more physical team.
Meanwhile, Marquette outclassed Vermont from start to finish, buoyed by a dynamite second half from Kam Jones.
Tom Izzo is looking for yet another March run for the Spartans, while Shaka Smart is looking for his first trip to the second weekend since the VCU days.
Let’s discuss where the betting value lies in Columbus.
No program in the country is better known for “peaking in March” than Michigan State. The 2022-23 MSU team appears to be no exception to the rule.
After sputtering throughout Big Ten play, in part due to some injuries, Sparty looks to be firing on all cylinders right now.
The emergence of Jaden Akins is a big reason why. The sophomore is a high-level athlete, just take a look at his SportsCenter Top 10-worthy slam against USC.
In addition to his ability to finish around the rim, Akins is shooting 42.5% from 3-point range and is capable of knocking down triples in bunches.
Tyson Walker provides steadiness for this team at the point guard position, and his backcourt mate, AJ Hoggard, has a really solid mid-range game.
Michigan State doesn’t have an elite big man as it typically does, but Mady Sissoko has made strides, and Carson Cooper provided some solid minutes off the bench against USC.
Izzo is known for trying to take away the opposing teams’ best player on the defensive end, so look for MSU to throw some different looks at Jones and Tyler Kolek.
It will be imperative for the Spartans to take good care of the basketball against a Marquette defense that puts a heavy emphasis on deflections and creating chaos in the half-court.
There aren’t many teams in the country that are hotter than Marquette right now.
Shaka has done an unbelievable job instilling his brand of basketball into Milwaukee, and he’s got the players to fit his system.
Kolek had a rare off-game against Vermont, but I certainly expect the Big East Player of the Year to round back into form in this one. Kolek does a little bit of everything for the Golden Eagles, and they need him at his best to earn a trip to New York City.
The aforementioned Jones gives Marquette a lethal 3-point shooter who can also get to the rim.
This Michigan State squad is not as good of a rebounding team as a typical Izzo group, so players like Oso Ighodaro and Olivier-Maxence Prosper could have an opportunity to hit the offensive glass and generate some second-chance opportunities.
Marquette has made strides throughout the year on the defensive end, and it will need to be ready to close out hard against the multitude of shooters that Sparty possesses.
I make this game closer to a pick’em, so I see plenty of value on the Spartans getting three points here.
Marquette has been playing some unbelievable basketball over its 10-game winning streak, but the Spartans’ physicality should allow them to go blow for blow here.
With plenty of shotmakers in both backcourts, this game could definitely be one with multiple lead changes in the final minutes.
Michigan State’s defense really stood out to me in the game against USC. The Spartans held Boogie Ellis to six points on 3-of-12 shooting and were flying around all game.
Kolek and Jones are not the same players as Ellis, but if MSU can apply that same level of attention to detail defensively, it can get enough stops to have a real chance to pull off the upset.
It’s worth mentioning that Izzo has taken down seven top-two seeds in his career in the NCAA Tournament, so he will certainly not be a stranger to the moment.
Give me the Spartans as a short underdog in what should be a fantastic basketball game Sunday afternoon.
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