Men's Basketball 2014 NCAA Tournament East Region Elite Eight Game Breakdown

Michigan State Sweet 16 action
2014 NCAA Tournament East Region Elite Eight Game Breakdown

#4 Michigan State vs. #7 Connecticut (New York, New York)

Friday night in the East bracket was truly a tail of two games.  Iowa State vs. UConn featured outstanding guard play from the Huskies.  Michigan State vs. Virginia was all about the Spartans big men coming up huge against the Cavaliers.  When the clocks struck zero, the only two teams remaining at Madison Square Garden were Connecticut and Michigan State.  These two games lived up to expectations as both were hard fought and not easy victories.
The Huskies had the game in hand against Iowa State for most of the 40 minutes, especially in the first half.  The Cyclones are a high scoring offense and they were held to 33% shooting at halftime.  In contrast, UConn was hitting all sort of shots. They shot 47% from behind the arc.  Shabazz Napier, the star point guard who has yet to cool off, hit four out of his six attempts.  His backcourt partner, Ryan Boatright, added 16 of his own points.  Iowa State could not handle the dual-point guard play that UConn implements.  Napier and Boatright adeptly play both guard positions.  One picks up where the other leaves off.  They made smart decisions down the stretch to keep the Cyclones at bay.  The key to Connecticut’s victory was the play of athletic 4-man DeAndre Daniels.  With the guards playing so well, Daniels wedged himself into the game plan as the go-to guy.  He was 10-15 from the floor for 27 points.  There was a stretch where he could not miss.  No matter how well the Cyclones played, Daniels seemed to hit just about anything he threw up.  It was a sensational performance that propelled the Huskies’ to the Elite Eight.  Iowa State made a run at in the second half to cut the lead significantly, but they just could not get their bearings shooting the ball for the whole game, especially at the free throw line where Iowa State made six shots compared to 20 for UConn.  It is tough to win when you leave points on the court.
The late game between two conference champions went right down to the wire.  It was a wild game of lead changes that seemed insurmountable at times.  Virginia proved why it is the best defensive team in the country.  Michigan State seemed frazzled at points during the game, especially in half court sets.  The Cavaliers take away every passing lane and press the ball better than anyone.  The Spartans had quite a few fast breaks rebuffed because the Virginia defense got a hand on the ball.  It was a tough, scrappy game on both sides.  Michigan State went up by 10 early, then Virginia countered with a run of their own to go up 10.  It was back and forth most of the game before the Spartans won the game on the foul line.  Brendan Dawson and Adreian Payne were vital to Michigan State’s success.  Dawson had a double-double (24 points, 10 rebounds) including a dunk put-back that prevented serious momentum for Virginia.  He and Payne were there to grab key rebounds to prevent extra chances for the Virginia shooters, who certainly made it interesting at the end.  Going into this game, defense was going to win the day.  Neither team could pull away.  The Spartans were frustrated by the Virginia defense, and Virginia could not fully handle the inside play of Michigan’s States post players.  In the end, the Cavaliers could not find the bottom of the net like they could in the first two rounds.  They shot 35% for the game. 
The regional final should shape up to be a good one.  It will have a little bit of everything.  Great guard play on one side, and a great post presence on the other.  An interesting matchup to watch will be to see how starting Spartans point guard Keith Appling handles the Napier assignment.  Napier has not allowed anyone to stifle him all tournament.  Appling is a good defender – though his overall play has not been great of late.  His ability to keep up with Napier is going to be key.  Also, how will Connecticut fair on the glass?  They have strong rebounders in Daniels and Niels Giffey, but they are more finesse athletes that can shoot.  Dealing with Payne and Dawson down low will be a different animal.  Competing for rebounds is going to be difficult.  They do not want to allow many extra possessions to a Michigan State that has plenty of scoring options.  UConn has been shooting so well themselves in the tournament, it seems like they would have to cool off sometime.  But their ability to stay hot could be the difference in this game.  No matter how good a defense is, if shots are falling then it does not matter what defensive strategy your opponent uses.  Napier and Boatright will be expected to lead the way again.  Daniels putting together two games in a row would do wonders for the Huskies.  With a third-option scorer they are a much better team that the regular season UConn team we saw.  Overall, Michigan State’s talent is better.  But do not tell that to Kevin Ollie’s club.  They are on some kind of run.  This one should be tight until the end.  These teams are going to be tired after the exhaustive efforts they put forth Friday night.  The Spartans have a slight edge going into this one, but do not be surprised if UConn ends up in North Texas.