NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview- Michigan State vs Northern Iowa
Friday: 7:07 p.m. ET: (9) Northern Iowa vs. (5) Michigan State
Michigan State is banged up, and that's probably putting it delicately. Kalin Lucas is done for the year after rupturing his achilles tendon this past Sunday. Chris Allen is nursing an injured foot. Delvon Roe was noticeably limping during the Spartans' second-round game against Maryland. Heck, Raymor Morgan is even done one front tooth after catching a wayward elbow trying to block a shot.
It puts Michigan State in a familiar spot. It seems like the Spartans are at their best playing the role of the plucky underdog, battling against the odds to make a tournament run. Last year, they beat two number-one seeds and the defending national champs (Kansas, in the Sweet 16) to make a run to the title game, playing for a state that has been hit hard by the economic swoon in a city (Detroit) that epitomized the economic problems in our country.
This year, the Spartans have battled injury and leadership issues before losing the 2009 Big Ten Player of the Year (Lucas) in the first half against the ACC co-champion. Yet here they are, once again, in the Sweet 16.
Having said all that, it is difficult to label the Spartans as the underdog in this case. Thanks to the ballsy shooting of Ali Farokhmanesh, Northern Iowa has been fitted with Cinderella's glass slipper, and it seems to fit very well.
Northern Iowa plays in the scrappy Missouri Valley. While the Panthers haven't exactly been a favorite on the national radar all season long, most of the people who know anything about college basketball have been keeping an eye on this team since November.
The Panthers are a tough, senior-laden team. They play defense. They control tempo. They aren't a group that is going to get pushed around by anyone, they don't play with fear no matter the opponent. All of this was evident against Kansas, and it wasn't just the Sultan of Swish firing ill-advised three-balls. It was 7-foot, 280-pound Jordan Eglseder knocking down a pair of threes and Lucas O'Rear bullying his way through the paint against players that actually look like athletes, not the bouncer at an Irish pub.
That mindset is going to put pressure on the Spartans. It's not easy to score on Northern Iowa. The Panthers are going to be bigger inside than Michigan State and they have a couple of good defenders on the perimeter. The Spartans, if they are to win, are going to need to beat UNI down the floor for easy baskets, and they are going to need big games out of Morgan and Durrell Summers. If there is anywhere that Michigan State has an advantage, it is athleticism; the Spartans must take advantage of it.