Virginia survived upset-minded Belmont on Friday and now faces Michigan State, which outlasted Georgia for a third-round berth.
Michigan State lofted 18 3-pointers on Friday and will need to take advantage of its long-range shooting if the No. 7-seeded Spartans are to advance. MSU entered the NCAA tournament hitting 38.6 percent from behind the arc, good for 30th nationally. Against Georgia, the Spartans were right on target: 38.9 percent (7 of 18).
The Spartans hold a slight advantage in scoring — 71.9 points per game to 65.3 — and will need Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine to keep their 14 ppg averages in tact. Against Georgia, Valentine had 16 points, and Bryn Forbes added 14 as the MSU bench outscored Georgia’s 22-10.
|(7) Michigan State vs. (2) Virginia|
|12:10 p.m. ET Sunday | CBS|
Virginia must keep Branden Dawson, the Big Ten’s leading rebounder, in check and limit the Spartans’ second chances. Against Belmont, the Cavaliers outrebounded the Bruins 35-29, including 11-6 on the offensive glass, but containing Dawson will be paramount for UVa.
The Cavs will have their hands full with the motion Michigan State will run, passing the ball inside and around the perimeter. When the ball clanks, Virginia needs to win the rebound battle more often than not and get its transition game up the floor.
Virginia was just under its season average shooting the ball Friday (45.6 percent vs. Belmont) but the free-throw line was the determining factor. UVa. outscored the Bruins 21-5. Taking the fight to Michigan State — and holding its ground on the boards — may force the Spartans into foul trouble. The Cavs were No. 68 nationally (.723 pct.) entering the tournament from the charity stripe.
With the Spartans’ edge in scoring, rebounding will be the key. Virginia ranked ninth (plus-7.8) in boards while MSU was 18th (plus-6.8).
Mike Tobey, the floor is yours. After scoring two points and snaring two rebounds in five minutes of floor time against Belmont, he needs to assert himself on Sunday. Entering the tournament, Tobey had started 11 games, including crucial February matchups against North Carolina, Louisville and NC State, and the 7-footer averaged 11.8 boards per 40 minutes.
This 2-7 matchup has the earmarks of an instant classic. The Cavaliers have been to the Sweet 16 eight times since 1975, including last season but have not advanced to the Elite Eight since 1995 or the Final Four since 1984. It’s one step at a time for the UVa. faithful — and it begins with getting that step for inside position in the paint.