Representing # 4 and # 7 seeds in the East bracket, the 27-8 Louisville Cardinals take on the 26-11 Michigan State Spartans on Sunday night with a trip to the Final 4 on the line. Louisville is coming off an impressive 10-point victory over the North Carolina State Wolf pack. Michigan State beat the # 3 seeded Oklahoma Sooners 62-58. Both of these teams have Hall of Fame coaches with Tom Izzo seeking his 7th Final Four appearance and Rick Pitino seeking his 8th including his 3rd in the last 4 years.
Montrezl Harrell has been the leader of this Louisville team all year. He has averaged 15 points and 9 rebounds per game while shooting 57 percent from the field. He led the way with 24 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists as 4 different Cardinals scored in double figures against North Carolina State. Terry Rozier, at only 6 foot tall, recorded the double-double by scoring 17 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. They played much more aggressively and made more free throws than the Wolf pack even attempted. They also did a great job hanging on to the basketball by only committing 5 turnovers. If there is a weakness on this team it could be there lack of viable bench options. They used only 7 players with the whole starting 5 playing more than 30 minutes. Both Rozier and Harrell actually played the entire game. The Cardinals may have found something with Anton Gill. Gill played only 2 minutes total in their first 2 wins, but played nicely when called upon after Wayne Blackshear headed to the bench with foul trouble. He scored 7 points on 3-3 shooting with an assist and 2 steals.
Michigan State continues to beat higher seeded teams as they took down the Sooners behind the brilliant play of Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine. Trice scored 24 points including four 3 pointers after dropping 23 against the Virginia Cavaliers the prior game. Denzel Valentine had 18points and 7 rebounds. He has produced all year by averaging 14 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists per game. They made 9 three pointers as a team and only committed 5 turnovers. Defensively they held Oklahoma to 36% shooting including 23% on three pointers. As good as this team has playing they still haven’t been able to conquer their problems at the free throw line. They went 9-16 in this game and are only shooting 54 % for the tournament. This is a problem that could catch up to them as the competition gets better and better.
Michigan State has been much better against the spread this year having gone 21-16 as Louisville has gone 14-19-1. The Spartans have covered in 5 of their last 7 games including their win over Oklahoma in which they were the favorites despite being the higher seeded team. Michigan States poor foul shooting and Louisville’s very limited bench could both be factors down the stretch if this is a close game as many are predicting.
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