It's the Foster Loyer Classic as seventh-seeded Michigan State takes on No. 10 Davidson in West Region action in Greenville, South Carolina, on Friday night. Loyer is the point guard for the Wildcats after transferring out of the Spartans' program. Sparty hopes that this year's run in the NCAA Tournament is more like 2019 (Final Four) than 2021 (First Four).
Last season, Michigan State lost to eventual Final Four participant UCLA 86-80 in overtime. Davidson has been one and done in the postseason in four straight NCAA Tournament appearances with their last victory coming in 2008 when Steph Curry took the Wildcats to the Elite Eight.
Michigan State (22-12) got off to a hot start beginning the season 14-2 with victories over fellow NCAA Tournament teams Loyola Chicago and UConn in the Bahamas. Their two losses came to a pair of this year's top seeds — vs. Kansas (Midwest Region) in the opener and by 17 points to Baylor (East Region) in the title game of the tournament in Nassau. The Spartans stumbled somewhat during Big Ten play, losing nine of their last 15 regular-season games. They turned things around with a pair of victories in the conference tournament before falling 75-70 to Purdue (No. 3 seed in the East Region) in the semifinals.
Davidson's (27-6) non-conference slate was relatively easy with its best victory a 79-78 triumph over Alabama (No. 6 seed in the West Region) on Dec. 21. The Wildcats lost by five points to San Francisco (No. 10 in the East) and by 11 to New Mexico State (No. 12 in the West) back in early November. Davidson went 15-3 in A-10 regular-season play and made it to the conference championship game where Richmond (No. 12 Midwest) made some late plays to stun the top-seeded Wildcats 64-62.
West Region: No. 10 Davidson Wildcats (27-6) vs. No. 7 Michigan State Spartans (22-12)
Time: Friday, March 18 at 9:40 p.m. ET (approximately)
Where: Bon Secours Wellness Arena (Greenville, S.C.)
Spread: Michigan State -1
Keys for Davidson
Rarely in a hurry, the Wildcats have played just three games at 70-plus possessions, which means it's hard to speed them up. They are one of the most efficient offenses in the country checking in the top 50 nationally in shooting two-pointers, 3-pointers, and free throws. Davidson is 15th overall in team effective field goal percentage (55.6), according to TeamRankings.com.
The Wildcats don't turn the ball over and do almost everything right on offense. Their only weakness is this team doesn't crash the boards a ton, but it's not as big of a deal if the shots are falling. Defensively is where the "problems" come if there are any. They don't force any turnovers and 43.8 percent of the opposition's shots come from beyond the arc, so if someone's hot from long range that could be a problem.
As mentioned above, Loyer is an important piece to Davidson's success. He averages 16.3 points per game while running the offense and shooting 44.5 percent from 3-point range. He's one of four double-digit scorers on this team, to go along with Hyunjung Lee, Luka Brajkovic and Michael Jones. Jones is another sniper from long range, including an 8-for-9 performance against Richmond during the regular season. Brajkovic and Sam Mennenga are the top threats in the paint. This is a team full of guys who know their roles and play them really well.
Keys for Michigan State
The Spartans' offense is very good in the right areas. They are a top-20 squad when it comes to 3-point shooting (37.8 percent) and do a good job on the offensive glass (91st) and from the line (74.7 percent, 74th nationally). If there was a weakness, it's that they have a small turnover issue.
Defensively this is another solid team led by Tournament veteran Tom Izzo. Michigan State is holding teams to 47.9 percent shooting inside the arc and 31.2 percent behind it. These Spartans are not very good at forcing turnovers (10.4 per game, 327th) and that can be an issue against efficient opponents.
Michigan State has just one double-digit scorer in Gabe Brown who is averaging 11.4 points per contest. He's a solid player in late-game situations because he shoots 90.6 percent from the free-throw line. Behind Brown is a group of seven others who average six or more points per game. It's a blessing and a curse to have such depth because it's nice to have options, but who is the go-to guy in the clutch? The rotation has only three seniors so it's a modestly young group.
This is a great first-round matchup. Having seen Davidson play in person several times, it's amazing to watch the Wildcats' offense go as teams see what they do on tape and still can't stop it. Their defense isn't the best, but how consistent is Michigan State's offense? In the Spartans' last 10 games, they scored 70 or more points five times and 69 or fewer five times. I know everyone believes in Tom Izzo in March, but his team may have met its match in this one.
Prediction: Davidson 72, Michigan State 68
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.