Sweet 16 Preview and Picks: Virginia Cavaliers vs. Michigan State Spartans

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ACC, Big Ten tournament champs vie for chance at Elite Eight

Sweet 16 Preview and Picks: Virginia Cavaliers vs. Michigan State Spartans

For Michigan State, reaching the Final Four is almost a birthright.

For Virginia, reaching the Final Four has been a long time coming.

Of course, neither can seal a trip in Friday’s Sweet 16 game, but that’s just an illustration of the different pressures for the two teams meeting in New York City.

Adreian Payne and Keith Appling don’t want to be the first seniors to play every year for Tom Izzo and miss the Final Four. Meanwhile, Virginia, once a Tournament regular, hasn’t been to the national semifinals since 1984.

With both Tom Izzo and Tony Bennett taking veteran teams into Madison Square Garden for the regional, the sense of history isn’t lost on either group.

“I'm going to have a chance to get to another one unless I get fired this week, but some of the seniors don't have a chance,” Izzo said. “I really believe that's their ownership in it.”

Virginia vs. Michigan State
Time: 10 p.m. Eastern
TV: TBS
Announcers: Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery
Region: East (New York)

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox:
Virginia 58-54
Braden Gall: Michigan State 68-66
Mitch Light: Virginia 55-50
Nathan Rush: Michigan State 74-64
How Virginia got here:
If Virginia was seemed like an easy upset pick, either due to the Cavaliers’ lack of recent NCAA Tournament success or the slow pace of play, they didn’t show it in the first week. The Cavaliers demolished Memphis in the round of 32 with a balanced offensive attack that yielded five double-digit scorers.

How Michigan State got here:
Remember all that injury talk from February and early March? Other than Keith Appling’s wrist, that’s not an issue. Adreian Payne scored 41 against Delaware and Branden Dawson scored 26 against Harvard. Michigan State is in as good a shape as it has been in months. Even if that’s not perfect — Appling's injury is no small matter — the Spartans have been good enough to get this far with an opportunity advance deeper into the Tournament.

Sweet 16 Previews
Michigan-Tennessee | Iowa State-UConn | Louisville-Kentucky

Key for Virginia to get to the Elite Eight: Joe Harris in the clutch
One of the great stories for Virginia this season is how the Cavaliers were able to win the ACC even though Joe Harris hasn’t been their top player (that would be Malcolm Brogdon). Harris, though, has averaged 14.8 points in the last five games thanks to timely 3-pointers. If Virginia is indeed a Final Four contender, Harris and Brogdon need to be a 1-2 punch.

Key for Michigan State to get to the Elite Eight: Adreian Payne’s game
Does anyone have an answer for what Adreian Payne can do? The 6-11 senior can post up and hit 3-point shots. Virginia is an elite offensive team, but the Cavaliers and forward Akil Mitchell haven’t faced many mismatches like this. If Payne is anywhere close to his 41-point form from the round of 64, Virginia is going to have trouble.

Player to watch: Keith Appling, Michigan State
Appling’s wrist remains an issue. The point guard attempted two shots against Harvard, four against Delaware and four in the Big Ten championship game against Michigan. Even if his wrist isn’t full healthy at any point during the NCAA Tournament, his limitations might limit Michigan State’s ability to advance.

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